HOUSTON - For Kristin Goodman driving to a gym this week to train volleyball players feels like the first step back to normalcy.
The new Fort Bend Austin volleyball coach also coaches for the Houston Stellars club team - which has already cancelled its summer season - but on Monday could start doing private lessons.
"This is the step I've been waiting for for two and a half months," Goodman said. "I think it is the beginning of to getting back to normal, getting back in the gym. Even if UIL opens up and says you can start doing these little groups this is kind of a trial and error to know what I could be doing in the summer."
Many volleyball club teams' facilities fall under the guidelines of gym or exercise facility, which because of Texas Governor Greg Abbott's executive order were able to re-open on Monday with a restriction of only 25 percent occupancy of the gym or exercise facility. The only thing closed at the facilities were to be the locker rooms and showers.
Abbott's guidelines also listed health protocols for employees and patrons to be followed.
"We are working off the state's guidelines," Houston Skyline director Courtney Eckenrode said. "We have really strict procedures to keep things safe. We've continue to help our kids with the recruiting process throughout the down time on the court, so our kids have stayed really active in that process."
And now we wait! We can't wait to get back in the gym with our new protocols in place. Things will look different, but we are so excited to start playing volleyball again💙🏐 pic.twitter.com/j5ukfcUCqJ
— Houston Skyline (@HoustonSkyline) May 18, 2020
The private lessons do come with restrictions.
At Houston Stellars, Goodman said they are limited to up to four players with an individual coach per court for the lessons they are running Monday through Thursday from 12 to 4 p.m. Inside the facility there are four courts, meaning a max of 20 people at a time in active training.
When it comes to the volleyballs, the used ones will be taken outside and sanitized after each lesson, while a new set of sanitized equipment is given to the coaches for the next lesson, Goodman said. The courts are also set to be sanitized each night.
Parents are only allowed to drop off, the players have to come in dressed and ready with only a water bottle. Goodman added that they cannot change inside the facility or bring in anything extra.
Social distancing is also a key component to this re-opening.
"We just have to make sure that they are spaced apart in every drill," Goodman said. "We can't high-five them, we can't give them hugs or anything like that. They have to be spaced out as much as possible."
When it comes to masks, Goodman said they have the option to wear them but are not required for both coaches and players.
Houston Stellars is not the only club to get back in the swing of things on Monday.
Alyssa Enneking, who is a coach for Houston Juniors, is also happy to get back in the swing of things. The VYPE Hall of Famer and Oklahoma Sooner star puts the return into perspective.
"Our objective right now is to have a balance of training and fun," Enneking said. "The girls need an outlet for the stress that is going on around them with the virus. I can't image being their age and in their shoes. Not being able to play the game they love and have so much passion for is tough on them."
Just like at Houston Stellars, Enneking said the protocols to keep everyone safe are key.
"We have strict protocols from taking temperatures to sanitizing everything," she said. "We can only coach our team and the girls can only practice with their team. We want to be able to always track who each girl is coming into contact with," she laughed. "We want our germs to stay within our own team.. and no high fives.
"I just think kids are getting depressed not being with their friends and teammates. They need their normal routines and have something to look forward to. It's a lot more work on us to make people feel good about coming back to the facility, but it's worth it."
Enneking and the Houston Juniors reached out to the Texas Tornados facility and owner JoEllen Saulsberry, who opened her sand facilities to other organizations a couple of weeks ago, and now her gym is back in business.
"We have sanitized our entire gym and will continue to do so," Saulsberry said. "Everyone will have their temperature taken and there will be markings on the floor for social distancing. Kids want to congregate together and that will take be strange, but we will make sure we are in compliance.
"We just want our customers to feel comfortable. Practices are strictly optional. Nothing is mandatory."
Now, the biggest question is, can what club volleyball teams are doing be transferred over to the high school teams?
The current return-to-practice tentative date for UIL volleyball is slated for August 3. The first scrimmages can take place August 7 and the first matches on August 10. Of course, those are all tentative dates.
Goodman, who will enter her first year at Fort Bend Austin as the head coach this season, believes what they are doing now could be applied in the summer if workouts are allowed or August when practices begin.
"I think so," Goodman said. "I think we'll come back in small groups and then get to bigger quantities of people. I definitely think they are going to look at what USAV is allowing. I think it will be something that the UIL looks at."
Training to play volleyball can, as seen by these guidelines is controllable. But playing an actual match is a completely different topic.
During a volleyball rally, there is a chance that almost every player on the court could touch the ball. That is just to make it 1-0 in the first set of first to 25 points of potentially a five-set match.
Once matches actually start to be held, Goodman believes they could look at college volleyball for some answers and there will probably be other safety protocols in place.
"I think similar to what college does and how they dry the ball off and rotate it in every corner, I think that's something they will look at," Goodman said. "I could see temperature checks, no high-fives before the game. I think they would have to have multiple game balls ready for us and they would sanitize between every point.
"That's definitely doable because college does that. I think that would be safe helpful because of the transfer of the ball."
There is a lot of things that can happen between now and August 3 - the first day of UIL practice - and Goodman is hopeful on that day she will be back in the gym at Fort Bend Austin with her new team and hopefully before that with expanded practice summer hours.
"I'm really hoping that they say we can get in those small groups and have those planned practices that they were talking about where we can get more time with our kids over the summer," Goodman said. "I think with the guidelines and if the parents are ready to send them back and they're not too worried, I think we're going to be ready to start August 3rd.
"I think with the right precautions and safety that we're taking into account, I think August 3rd is doable."
Waiting to be called into the hall with the anticipation of finding out which team she would start the season with rising, Julieta Valdes finally heard her name.
The freshman walked in, surrounded by coaches to be told that she hadn't made any of the volleyball teams at The Woodlands.
Valdes began to cry before the coaches finally gave in to what in the end was a cruel joke, only to tell her she had indeed made the varsity team as a freshman.
"I was really shocked," Valdes said. "I went out to celebrate and get crepes afterwards. I was like 'we made it guys'.
"It was the goal; I knew I had a shot but it's The Woodlands and they're known for being really tough both academically and athletically. I knew it was going to be tough to make it, so that's why I was so nervous and a 50-50."
As the 2019 season began for The Woodlands, Terri Wade would carry two freshmen – Valdes and setter Claire Dewine - on her opening roster.
In the opening week, which included nine matches and eight being played at the ultra-competitive John Turner Classic in Pearland, Valdes was thrown into the fire.
The freshman didn't waver.
Valdes finished with 38 kills in the tournament and was named to the All-Tournament team at the end.
"I just saw confidence," Wade said. "You usually will put a freshman out there, they will look a little scared, a little timid, they don't go for balls when they have the potential. She doesn't really have that factor; she still wants the ball and demands the ball. She proves that on the court."
The instant comparison Wade and others on the team have made is between Valdes and senior LSU-commit Dylan Maberry.
"A lot of times I look up and I think it is Dylan," Wade said with a laugh. "They look alike, they play aggressive. So, it's exciting. Dylan was right there her freshman year too. I see a whole lot of potential for her."
Maberry, who was the John Turner Classic MVP, and Valdes stand at nearly the same height, both have dark hair and, of course, can fly out of the gym and hammer the ball.
"It's awesome, we lost an outside hitter and Julieta coming in means everything," Maberry said. "She's already is so good and has so much potential. She's a Rockstar."
Before Valdes even stepped foot onto campus, Wade already knew of the talent coming up the pipe.
At a team camp, prior to the team tryouts, Wade was able to move her around different courts and see what she could do against different age levels.
Once Valdes was placed with the varsity group, she stood out.
"She didn't just play with them, she challenged them," Wade said. "I knew she would be a top player."
Valdes has started off her varsity career with a bang – 47 kills in the first nine matches, which is second on the team only to Maberry – and she knows she has more to learn as the year goes on.
"Probably to just keep going and that I'm not going to always be the go-to that I am in club since the age difference and everybody's more competitive here," Valdes said about what she learned the first week. "Just keep fighting and for the team and it doesn't have to be centered around me."
So, how good can Valdes be by the end of her freshman year?
"I think she'll be that second player that can come in just like Dylan and give us offense all around the court," Wade said.