In a season which will look different on so many levels, perhaps the most visible sign of COVID protocols, at least on the field of competition, will be in volleyball, as players wear masks during matches. Coaches and schools agreed to that change when the season was in jeopardy.
The National Federation of High School Sports (NFHS) designates volleyball as “moderate risk,” with an asterisk, which designates a sport that “could potentially be considered ‘lower risk’ with appropriate cleaning of equipment and use of masks by participants.” The Connecticut Department of Public Health designated indoor volleyball as higher risk. Adding masks to the equation led to the CIAC’s approval for 2020, and many coaches said that it didn’t take long for the players to adjust to the change.
TAKE IT OUTSIDE?
Along with wearing masks, one of the considerations to move volleyball off the Connecticut DPH’s list of higher risk sports was to play games outside, rather than indoors, where the spread of the virus is more likely. Many teams began conditioning and running drills outside, but ran into difficulties.
“We don’t have the proper equipment for kids to be outside,” Norwalk Athletic Director Doug Marchetti said during the preseason. “If you were to tell me to roll out physical education game standards for a varsity volleyball program, the net is going to potentially sag, and who knows what quality of the standards they’re going to use? It makes it very difficult for a volleyball coach to put together a roster playing on substandard equipment on potentially a substandard surface.”
With the addition of masks during games, the vast majority of schools moved back inside.
However, New Haven schools Hillhouse, Wilbur Cross and Career, along with Branford, will not hold indoor matches. As of Tuesday, no outdoor games had been added to the CIAC’s schedule.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN FOR GUILFORD
Guilford had a season to remember in 2019, going 23-4 overall, reaching the Class L title game, and capturing their first SCC championship in 25 years when they topped Shelton in a five-set thriller.
With the majority of the roster returning, including SCC Player of the Year Emma Appleman, thought by many to be the top player in Connecticut, as well as All-State libero Juliet Young, Guilford was primed for a run at a state title this season. That hope has gone by the boards with the CIAC’s cancellation of this fall’s tournaments, and Guilford will instead square off with five other teams in the SCC-C division.
“I think it is in the back of our minds that we would have had another great season, and this year might lend itself to that,” coach Laura Anastasio said. “We are all trying to focus on what the season looks like and set goals on what this season brings. We hope that there is some type of tournament experience that really creates some competitive challenges.”
DYNASTIES ON PAUSE
With the regional breakdown and no “tournament experiences” officially scheduled, several dynasties may have to wait to tack on more titles.
In the SWC, Joel Barlow is working on a run of eight consecutive league championships, which was extended with a five-set win over Masuk in last year’s final. The Falcons also have the 2018 CIAC Class L championship plaque in their trophy case.
Lyman Memorial of the ECC repeated as Class S champs with a sweep of Hale-Ray in the title game last fall, and has appeared in the finals for five straight years.
Seymour, which beat Waterford to repeat as Class M champion in 2019, has won state titles in three of the past four years, and RHAM is working on a streak of four consecutive CCC championships, while also winning three state crowns since 2013.
Trumbull has won two championships in as many years, taking the FCIAC title in 2018, and the Class LL championship last year.
If there is a postseason this year, it will include more regional action to reduce travel and help prevent the spread of COVID. The situation, as commonly heard this year, is “fluid.”
With conference play out and regional pods in, teams won’t be facing some familiar faces. While rivalry games based on geography are still on the schedule, we won’t have a chance to see games between some of the FCIAC’s perennial top teams, such as Trumbull and Westhill, who clashed in last year’s Class LL title match.
It’s unfortunate, as the league has an extremely strong returning senior class, and is very deep with contenders.
There are still several contests with a playoff-type feel. For example, Trumbull, with returning stars Ali Castro and Bailey Cenatiempo, will square off with defending FCIAC champion Ludlowe in the East Division, while Westhill, runner-up in last year’s conference and state tournaments, will face strong opposition from Greenwich, Darien and New Canaan, along with its traditional rival Stamford.