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Under new guidelines, volleyball looks to rally

Tanner Cook • Jul 8, 2020 at 10:00 AM

GRAY — The start of the typical fall sports season in Tennessee is closer than it seems.

Even though football and girls soccer may be put on hold for a few weeks following the extension of Gov. Bill Lee’s state of emergency because of the coronavirus pandemic, volleyball marches on.

“In the beginning, practices were a lot harder because we were only allowed 10 people, including coaches, per practice and we had to do multiple groups to make sure everyone got in the gym,” Daniel Boone coach Chelsea Baker said. “Volleyball is about rallying and it’s really hard to do that when we only have nine people in the gym. We had to get creative using boxes and do a lot of 4-on-4.”

Practice and conditioning at Boone and most other schools have been underway since June, and the TSSAA deemed volleyball — along with cross country and golf — as a sport whose season could start on time.

So how have practices proceeded with social distancing guidelines?

“We’re still having to do all the sanitation, taking temperatures of all the players and trying to maintain our distance when we’re not doing team drills,” Baker said. “It’s good to have less than 50 people and it’s really good to be able to actually practice.”

Volleyball is not typically considered to be a contact sport like football or soccer. A play at the net is one of the few times opposing teams are close enough to breathe on each other.

It is hard to know whether there will be any significant changes to actual game play other than possibly sanitizing the ball, the only object regularly touched by both teams.

“We don’t know anything if there will be any significant changes,” Baker said. “For now, volleyball is a noncontact sport. That could change tomorrow, though, depending on if things get out of hand.”

Momentum is a huge part of the sport, and the distinct possibility remains that no fans will be in the gym bleachers come the start of the season. Being in an enclosed area for an extended amount of time with others who could be infected with the coronavirus is not recommended by health officials.

No fans in the stands could significantly impact the game, Baker said.

“We’re definitely concerned about that,” she said. “Volleyball is about momentum and a lot of the time, fans get the momentum going for the team. If you have someone cheering against you, you want to prove a point.

“That would affect the way we play as a whole, I think.”

As for the Lady Trailblazers specifically, practices and weight-lifting sessions are much easier now that some restrictions — such as on gatherings of no more than 10 people —have been lifted.

“It’s not been so bad the first few weeks, but it’s nice to actually get back out and practice,” senior setter McKenna Dietz said. “I think we’ll be pretty good this year. It’ll be tough to fill the shoes of Jaycie (Jenkins), Greyson (Stevens), Mackenzie (Sweigart) and Laken (Jones), but I think the young ones are adjusting pretty well.”

Boone is the defending District 1-AAA tournament champion and advanced to the state tournament for the first time since 1998 — but the first as a Class AAA team. The Lady ’Blazers must replace five seniors, but many younger players have stepped up.

“As a group, I think we’re pretty good at staying together and picking each other up,” said senior middle blocker Dannah Persinger. “We have a lot of young ones coming up that have showed they’re capable of playing on this team and I think we’ll be pretty good coming into the season.”

Dietz — the reigning district tournament MVP — and Persinger are two of the key returners on Baker’s squad.

“It’s been tough because we lost a hitter at every position, but we’ve had a lot of people step up in the offseason,” Baker said.

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