Volleyball Team Determined to Overcome New Obstacles

Claire Butler

The Manchester volleyball team’s spring season has been fueled by desire to overcome countless obstacles. From Covid, changes in practices and games, the athletes have stayed determined.

Originally, volleyball was a high-risk sport, but since masks are worn to train and compete, it has dropped to a lower risk sport. Wearing masks has been the most helpful change in making the season as normal as possible.

“I am pretty proud of our players for being willing to train and play with masks on,” said Coach Ivan Matos, “because we really set the standard in the fall for all our other conference teams, alongside Bluffton which was one of the teams we played in the fall.”

With social distancing and additional testing, it has been easier to find competitions in the spring.

In addition to all of the NCAA guidelines to follow, the team has had to split into pods for practices which has made it harder for the team to work as a unit. “We had some freshman players who had been practicing for three weeks and had never met or interacted with some upperclassmen that were in the other pod because we had to keep them separate for social distancing,” Matos said. “It definitely has affected our team cohesion.”

It has been difficult for the first years to transition to the college environment and find that comfort and guidance from the returning players’ leadership. “We’ve been blessed to have a much longer season due to it being postponed, but it still seems like it has been tough to bond as a team,” said Samantha Campbell, junior. “Since my freshman year, I feel like I’ve been a leader out on the court, but this year, being a junior, it has been my responsibility and privilege to step up as a leader and serve to be an example for the underclassmen.”

Despite the difficulty in transitioning to the team and Covid restrictions, the team has been working consistently and growing with each game. Practices are at 6 a.m. sharp. “I saluted our players and told them how proud of them I am because they have showed up every day for practice, on time ready to work without any bad attitudes, without feeling sorry for themselves even though our record has not been ideal,” Matos said. “They continue to battle, to train to get better. Even in last week of conference plays.”

Campbell appreciates the practice schedule. “I think it would be safe to say that we have some of the most intense practices in our conference, but it continues to push us to work harder and improve our skills,” she said. “I can’t thank Coach Tyler and Coach Ivan enough for pushing us each and every day and for never giving up on us as a team.”

Games have also changed drastically from the past years. There are no rowdy crowds to energize the players, or intimidate the competition, and players must stay six feet apart on the bench rather than standing together to cheer. “It’s been different playing without the crowds,”Matos said. “You need to create your own energy consistently which makes it even tougher, but I’m very thankful and proud of our players who, if they aren’t playing, have been so loud, positive, and reinforcing for their teammates.”

Without the crowd cheering on each play, staying motivated can get very difficult. Still, Campbell notes that the team adjusts. “Our bench and each person on it has made it possible to keep energy on the court,” she said.

“The seniors have done an amazing job of being role models and setting the tone of the game,” Campbell continued. “Not once have I seen a senior give up or lose passion for the game, even after being quarantined or after tough losses. Each barrier put in their way gives them more motivation to run through the finish line with their head held high.”

In honor of the seniors, the senior night game was held at Manchester against Transylvania. Due to Covid precautions, senior parents were not allowed to walk their senior out. However, they were able to come down on the court and take pictures once the visiting team left. “Our seniors have been such an impactful part of our team, so I am so glad we were able to make it to senior night to honor all of their work!” Campbell said.

Coach Matos agrees. “I am proud of the team to keep battling through all this and to keep an unbelievable strong attitude, mental toughness,” he said.

The season began slowly with a lot of adjustments for each member of the team. “We just haven’t been consistent enough to win games,” Matos said. “A lot of it has to do with how young our team is, still trying to figure things out.”

In fact, the season is not over yet. “We will continue to compete to win,” Matos said, “but as long as I see our players are continuing to grow, adapt, and progress in the things, we are working on I will be very happy.”