Timothy Belin, Campus Carrier sports editor
As with every other varsity sport, volleyball has had to face multiple challenges in a semester filled with unknowns. Despite this, players and coaches have remained determined to keep positive, focusing on silver linings and what they can control.
Caitlyn Moriarty, head volleyball coach, said the semester has been defined by small issues culminating in a whole.
“I think every week presents some sort of new challenge or trial or problem that we have to solve as a team,” Moriarty said. “I don’t know that we’ve had one necessarily big one that’s defined our fall, but I guess the biggest challenge would just be dealing with all the little challenges that come our way and just learning to face those head on as a team and pivoting when we need to pivot and just kind of going with the flow and taking it week by week.”
However, facing these obstacles was a positive experience for senior setter Cyrena Bedoian, who said it challenged the team to grow in a new direction.
“This semester has been different, challenging in its own ways, but it’s been a lot of fun,” Bedoian said. “A lot of growing opportunities for us. I think, with COVID and just everything going on, it’s really pushed us to think creatively about how we can spend time together in a safe way and kind of push us out of our traditional boundaries to figure out how we can grow team culture.”
Moriarty said strong team chemistry is always a vital component, one they have had to adapt for. A lot of bonding happens naturally during a season, according to her, as players will unite to face their opponents and spend time together on away trips. With no season, players have now had to find new ways to spend valuable time together, all while adhering to COVID-19 protocols.
Bedoian said this forced the players to take greater initiative, such as deciding to attend KCAB events together or having group dinners on mountain campus. Additionally, the extra time gained by the lack of a season gave the team opportunities to enjoy activities they would not normally get to do.
“We have gotten to do so many fun things this semester that we would have never been able to if we were in a season,” Bedoian said. “Like we got to go to a pumpkin patch together; that was so much fun. We’ve been able to do small group things; we went to an apple orchard, a different group went to a farmers market and we’ve gotten to tube down the river here and so many different small things that would never have happened if we would have had a normal season. Silver linings are that we get so much time to invest in relationships rather than fixating on volleyball.”
Sophomore outside-hitter Hannah Hulsman said that, even when the team was quarantined after the outbreak of cases on athletic teams, players found a way to use that time productively.
“We used quarantine as an opportunity to keep Zooming with each other and to keep on connecting and keep getting to know each other and mentoring our incoming freshmen,” Hulsman said. “So, if anything, I think it’s probably been a positive impact just because we’ve had more time to just focus on getting to know each other and growing as people.”
In addition to the ability to focus on relationships, Moriarty said the delayed season has given them a greater opportunity to train new players. This year’s roster is a very young team, as 12 out of 16 players are underclassmen, with six of them freshmen. Having the ability to integrate these players slowly, while also giving them a chance to adapt to college life without the added stress of a sports season, has therefore been a big positive for Moriarty.
Now that a season has been tentatively confirmed for the spring, Moriarty, Bedoian and Hulsman all said they would keep a positive mindset, because they are well aware that they are lucky to even have a season when so many other colleges are still online.
“We feel really encouraged,” Moriarty said. “I know there’s a lot of folks in our conference and on our campus that have been working really hard to make that a reality for us and thinking through every possible detail and scenario in order for our athletes to compete. That’s really encouraging, especially at the division three level where it’s not like athletics is bringing in all this revenue for the institution. We just appreciate everything that everybody’s doing in order for us to compete in the spring and we’re hopeful that, come March, we can put on our Berry jerseys and represent Berry and defend our SAA title.”
Bedoian, for whom it will be her final year playing for the Vikings, said their gratitude at getting to compete meant everyone would cherish every minute.
“It will be different in a good way, because we’re going to make the most of it,” Bedoian said. “However many games we play, if it’s only eight weeks and 16 games, if that’s all we play, we’re going to make the most of it and we are going to enjoy our time together. Yes, we love playing volleyball, but that’s just the thing that connects us; we love each other more as people and spending time together. It’s going to look different but we’re still going to enjoy it just as much because we get to do something that connects and ties us together and play the thing that we love.”
Moriarty said that the mentality her players exhibited so far also gives her hope as to the possibilities for the season.
“I anticipate us hitting some bumps in the road mentally and emotionally, of course, I think that always happens, but I think overall we’re in a really good headspace and have really worked through a lot of challenges this fall,” Moriarty said. “I’m really proud of them for their mental toughness, commitment to the program, commitment to growing as individuals and vulnerability with one another. All those kinds of things have just grown them closer as a group and then, of course, that’s just made them better volleyball players at the end of the day.”
Hulsman also acknowledged that COVID-19 could still cause issues, but she said she is confident the team’s optimism would see them pull through.
“I think it’s definitely possible for that to affect you mentally and to put a damper on things,” Hulsman said. “But I think we do a pretty good job of staying positive and focusing on what we can control in the moment. So yeah, it’s definitely a possibility, but I have a lot of trust our team can continue to find joy in the small opportunities we have.”
Bedoian agreed and said that while they cannot ignore COVID-19, the important thing is to not let it become too much of a burden.
“I think, overall, we’re trying not to let COVID overtake us with fear,” Bedoian said. “We are going to be cautious about it and we’re going to obviously care about it, but we don’t want it to stop us from reaching a certain goal or striving to be the very best that we can and growing in whatever way we can just because of fear of it. We really want to just use this opportunity as a time to step out and try new things, grow and experiment with ways that our team can bond.”