HOUSTON – Impatient. Optimistic. Excitement.
Those are the range of emotions volleyball coaches are feeling day-in and day-out as the number of days between now and the tentative start of the 2020 volleyball season gets smaller.
"This life trial everyone is going through has been a waiting game in every aspect," The Woodlands coach Terri Wade said. "It's hard to plan ahead as we normally do. I think everyone is very hopeful we will start on time, but we have to have a back-up plan and a back-up plan to that plan."
The current start of 2020 volleyball tryouts still stand as August 3.
As that date gets closer, coaches are putting together their normal plans, including Friendswood's Sarah Paulk. But it is understood that the "normal" start to the season may not be the same for 2020.
"We haven't been told to do anything different yet, so I am going forward with planning like normal," Paulk said. "However, I could see where we have a delayed start and eliminate tourneys, etc. I haven't been told anything in regards to that yet."
The volleyball season comes fast. August 3 is the first day of tryouts, August 7 are the first scrimmages and first matches – which usually come in a tournament format – start on August 10.
Tournaments in the past, like the John Turner Classic in Pearland – which historically has brought teams from around the state – have been a popular launching point for teams.
"I hope that we will be allowed to play at least one tournament," Wade said. "Tournaments are the only opportunity we get to play other teams around the state and get a feel of what to expect down the road for playoffs. If we return to school at full capacity, I don't see how playing tournaments could be any greater of a risk to attend."
For coaches like Amanda Watts of Episcopal, the fate of their start falls at the hands of the Southwest Preparatory Conference. Episcopal returns as the defending SPC Volleyball Champions.
"The SPC and our administration at Episcopal have been working so hard to try and come up with a plan so our students can safely return to school and sports," Watts said. "I am ready to get back in the gym with my team. They are hungry to have a chance at defending their title, but we understand this is an uncertain time.
"The SPC is currently working on a plan to safely return to sports. They are running through many different scenarios to make sure our athletes can compete in a safe environment."
Each day there seems to be new rumors that surface about when, if and how fall sports could start. As each school district announces its reopening plans, that causes more questions.
"I tell my players to not listen to any rumors," Kingwood coach Christie Mewis said. "I tell them to plan to start on August 3 and I will let them know if there are any changes. I tell them to stay positive."
The coaches, like Mewis has, have been communicating with their players. The messages are ones of positivity and flexibility with each new wave of news.
"They haven't really been asking much, they are showing up and working hard," Splendora coach DaVette McCall said.
Watts added: "We have had some great conversations about how this uncertain time has helped us reflect on so many things we have taken for granted. We are staying positive and focusing on only things we can control."
So, the biggest question is how do we safely start volleyball on time?
"I want to play! So, if they tell me I have to stand on my hands and walk backward to allow us to play I'll do my best handstand," Paulk said. "But in all seriousness. Hand washing, sanitation and cleaning as best as we can. Temperature checks are an easy thing to do. And reminding kids to stay home if they feel sick is what I think we should do!"
Watts added: "I do believe we need to continue to be diligent about washing our hands, not touching your face and practice social distancing when you can. I will continue to pray that numbers go down and that a cure is found not just so that we can play sports and go to school but so our community can stay safe and healthy."
For Wade, The Woodlands volleyball players have not been brought together for camps or Strength and Conditioning this summer.
Club volleyball teams have been doing personal training this summer and have recently been doing tryouts for the 2020-2021 teams. The safety procedures they have followed have provided a bit of a roadmap of how volleyball could look come August.
"Some precautions they are taking that have been successful are: limiting people in the gym, screening with health checks, wearing masks entering and exiting buildings in specific doors, and all spectators in masks (very limited there as well). I think it has been a good practice to keep hand sanitizer at each court. Players are encouraged to clean their hands before they get water from their own water bottles or at any break in play. Volleyball equipment and floors are cleaned after each practice. No one comes close together for a huddle. They stay spread out when gathering."
During play, masks have not been required to wear, which Wade believes a mask wouldn't stay on well during live action. Wade believes other steps could be taken to promote safety, including spreading out practice times, traveling requiring two buses or two trips.
Another part where distancing will be key will be after a point, teams usually come together for a small celebration on court but that won't be the same in 2020.
"We will all miss the camaraderie of coming together with our teammates and encouraging each other with a high five or a pat," Wade said. "We will lose touch of the special moments while growing distance among each other, but the distance will not impact the importance of the competition and experience."
What a year 2018 was for Houston- area volleyball!
Kingwood Park went all the way and completed the mission, claiming the Class 5A State Championship. The Panthers bring solid pieces back for a potential run at a repeat. Ridge Point was also there playing for a state title but fell short to North Texas power Flower Mound. There are also the traditional powers in Houston, such as The Woodlands and Seven Lakes, who will try and make noise again in 2019.
So, who are the contenders?
Kingwood Park Panthers
(Won Class 5A State Championship)
READY TO DEFEND TITLE: Kingwood Park stood tall as the lone state champion from Houston in 2018. The Panthers made their first-ever trip to the UIL State Volleyball Tournament and shocked the land by knocking off Lucas Lovejoy in a sweep. Now, the target is firmly on the back of Kingwood Park heading into 2019. The Panthers do return solid pieces, including senior Libby Overmyer, who was named the 5A State Championship Game MVP. Overmyer (Colgate-commit) finished with a team-leading 391 kills and a second-best 290 digs. Also returning is Erika and Alia Williams. Erika finished with 211 kills and a team-leading 124 blocks at the net. Alia registered 262 kills last season. A spot the Panthers will have to figure out is at setter after losing Andie Unwin (743 assists) and Julia Hadley (706 assists) to graduation. Kelly Miser (102-22) enters her fourth season leading the Panthers and will try to get the program back to its third-straight regional final and potentially a run for back-toback state championships.
Ridge Point Panthers
(Reached Class 6A State Championship Game)
JETER, RUTHERFORD, MCCARDELL LEAD TALENTED GROUP INTO 2019: Ridge Point was on the cusp of bringing home the hardware in 2018. A loss in the Class 6A Championship game to Flower Mound prevented that, but fueled a team full of juniors to be ready for 2019. Gone is superstar Skylar Fields, who will star this fall at the University of Texas. Coach Lori McLaughlin has also moved on, taking the Cedar Park job. Lauren Bailey will take the coaching reigns and the cupboard is loaded. Back is a solid senior crew led by Claire Jeter (Texas A&M-commit). Jeter, a selection to the State All-Tournament team last season, led Ridge Point with 490 kills and 167 blocks. Also back is Reagan Rutherford (Kentucky-commit), who had 832 assists, 477 digs, 382 kills and 105 blocks. Ridge Point also brings back leading setter Kendall Sekula (979 assists) and defensive standout Nia McCardell (906 digs). With all this talent back on the roster, Ridge Point should be considered a heavy favorite in the city again. The Panthers will have to fight their way through a tough Region III-6A bracket, with the potential of running into Seven Lakes, Pearland Dawson or George Ranch in the postseason. The Panthers should be ready with the experience back.
The Woodlands Highlanders
(Reached 6A Regional Semifinals)
MABERRY TO LEAD HIGH-OCTANE OFFENSE: When talking about contenders in Houston, The Woodlands must be in the conversation. The Highlanders reached the Regional Semifinals for a seventh-straight time last season before falling to Plano West. Falling short of reaching the Regional Finals snapped a five-year streak of playing in that round for The Woodlands. Heading into this season – chasing the program's fourth overall state championship and first since 2015 – The Woodlands has some top talent back. Dylan Maberry (LSU-commit) leads the offensive group after racking up an impressive 765 kills last season and was named the District 15-6A Offensive Player of the Year. Maberry also registered 489 digs, 62 aces and 59 blocks. Also returning is first-team, all-district selections Clara Brower (Georgia-commit) and Amanda Ifeanyi (UT-San Antonio-commit). Brower had 1,546 assists last season, while Ifeanyi had 359 kills and 110 blocks. Other key returners for The Woodlands include second-team, all-district selection Natasha Zorbas (134 kills and 100 blocks) and Allie Griffith (Air Force-commit), who earned an honorable mention, all-district nod after racking up 189 digs in 79 sets. Terri Wade (353-137) enters her fifth season at The Woodlands and 12th overall as a head coach.