New normal: Volleyball players are used to playing sports during a pandemic

Steamboat Springs senior setter Emily Schneider is grateful to have a season this year. The Sailors are looking to take the short 2021 season one game at a time. (Photo by Shelby Reardon)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — One year into the pandemic, the Steamboat Springs High School volleyball team is used to playing in masks. Some have taken part in other sports; the rest have been practicing nearly once a week since July.

Sailors head coach Wendy Hall has been teaching and coaching under COVID-19 health protocols since returning to school in August.

“It kind of is a new normal for me, and to some extent, the players as well,” Hall said. “It doesn’t seem so far fetched or crazy anymore. We’re used to the masks.”

The team was one day away from tryouts when it found out it wouldn’t have a fall season. The girls have been waiting to play since their last game in the fall of 2019. They are grateful just to be back to work.

“We are just really grateful for the opportunity to be together every day, to work hard every day and have a common goal,” Hall said. “Volleyball is kind of the vehicle in which we get to do that.”

With the drama of overcoming masks and the suspense surrounding whether or not they would be able to compete, the Sailors are now focused on making the most of the short season.

“It’s a really special season,” said senior Erica Simmons. “We were not sure if we would have this season. I’m super grateful to be able to be here. It’s my last year to play.”

The only major COVID-related concern is the fear of being quarantined. The volleyball players who endured the basketball season are all too familiar with the fate of being sent home. Any sort of close contact to a positive case can send athletes home for 10 days. In such a short season, those 10 days could have devastating consequences.

Being one week away from competition, a quarantine could bump the Sailors below the eight minimum games needed to qualify for playoffs. Hall said getting through the season is a bigger goal than making the playoffs.

“Being prepared as you can be is a secondary problem this year. First and foremost, let’s just let them play,” Hall said. “We have to change our focus, all of us do, of what’s really important. For me, them getting the opportunity to play in a uniform for the first time in 17 months is what’s important right now.”

Still, senior Emily Schneider said the team has set an early goal to make regionals, a task the Sailors fell one game short of in 2019.

The Sailors season is just 13 games and begins Thursday at home against Aspen. The last regular season game will be at home on April 17 when the Sailors host Palisade, a team they are very much looking forward to meeting, as well as Glenwood Springs.

“They were really good last year,” Schneider said. “We fought against them, but we didn’t win against them.”

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