UL volleyball coach Heather Mazeitis-Fontenot knows she can’t guarantee the Sun Belt volleyball season will take place.
There are still too many uncertainties surrounding the possibilities of all fall sports in 2020.
What she is convinced of is if the NCAA hierarchy gives college athletics the go-ahead, the league’s volleyball programs will be ready to go.
“I can’t say enough about the head volleyball coaches in the Sun Belt,” Mazeitis-Fontenot said. “We’re very much all on the same page. We’ve been having our own conference calls just to discuss issues so we already have a plan.”
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That covers several bases.
For one, most league officials are almost expecting a team to have an outbreak, similar to what the Miami Marlins are enduring these days in the major leagues.
The coaches have discussed multiple scenarios providing for a fluid schedule to accommodate such situations.
“It’s incredibly possible,” she said. “We’ve discussed a few different scenarios to where we have an open weekend, so if something needs to be adjusted. It’s going to be fluid. You have to adapt this fall."
During each game, the coaches have agreed the teams won’t switch sides during a match. The high amount of dead balls during a match would easily allow for volleyballs to be disinfected.
“I definitely think the volleyball part itself can happen,” Mazeitis-Fontenot said. “There’s no question that can happen in a pretty safe environment. AAU volleyball just proved that. They just had a big national tournament down in Florida. Instead of 100 courts, they had 40 and it was with limited attendance. And I’ve watch volleyball online with club kids in Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas. So yes, I think it’s very doable.
“It’s just the travel, getting there … 30 people on a bus.”
Unlike football, if the NCAA ends up pushing back the system — even as far as the spring — it would work much better for volleyball where “only two per conference go play professionally,” so no draft concerns like football.
“It would all be about the desire to keep playing and how much it interferes with their academics,” Mazeitis-Fontenot said. “We have two kids who are scheduled to graduate in December, so do they come back? Same issue as baseball and softball in the spring.”
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A change Mazeitis-Fontenot wouldn’t support is players having to wear masks during competition, although it’s already been decided all coaches, officials, game management and players on the bench will have to wear masks.
“I think it would be horrendous honestly,” she contended. “If that is something that they’re asked to do, I think that would be something that would be incredibly uncomfortable, it would be tough to breathe — the whole sweating issue — and it also affects your sight. I wear a mask every day and I can’t see as good. It would have a tremendous affect in play.
“I don’t see that being part of it, but no, I have not been told that it won’t be. Right now, we’re going along as if we’re playing. But until it comes down from our commissioner and athletic directors, we’re just listening to people.”
Now, after such an unusual offseason, quality and feasibility may be two different concepts.
“Quality volleyball?” she said. “That’s another thing. I don’t know. But it comes back to you pretty quickly. I don’t know if we’ll be at our best for a while, but the girls are in the gym right now as much as they’re allowed to be. At least the enjoyment of being back is there and that’s such a big part of it.”
As for her Ragin’ Cajuns, Mazeitis-Fontenot has been pleased with how her eight newcomers have adjusted to college life with pandemic restrictions and with how well many of the 11 returnees have maintained conditioning.
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“We had some kids that did such an awesome job when they were at home,” she said. “Some of our older kids on our team came back in the exact same shape that they left in. So that’s great.”
Naturally, the buildup to theoretically opening August practice on Aug. 5 has been different.
“The great thing is our whole team is here,” she explained. “They’re here just like football is here. We’ve been able to get them in front of our strength coach. We’ve phased in workouts on the court. Right now, only allowed to be on the court with their roommates, so it’s roommates vs. roommates. Two kids that live together vs. two other kids that live together.”
As prepared as Sun Belt volleyball coaches are, there are still more questions than answers.
“The guidelines we’re under are still pretty rigid, so how we’re going to start practice on Aug. 5 is pretty interesting," Mazeitis-Fontenot said. "I was speaking with our trainer and I’ve created four different schedules for our preseason camp, because I don’t know what they’re going to allow us to do.
"Do we have to practice in pods? Can the whole team ever be together? So I don't know what it’s going to look like, but we are prepared for everything."
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