By ROBYN NEMETH ‘23 and ALYSON ZHANG ‘22
Although girls volleyball is a fall sport, the 2020-2021 season started this spring. The sport usually starts in August with open gyms in July, but the pandemic delayed the season until March. As volleyball involves close contact indoors, the crisis also shortened the season, ending in late April. Nevertheless, the athletes returned to the court last month with masks and new coaches: Head Coach Denise Morrow, Junior Varsity Coach Jason Wernlund, and Freshmen Coach Charles Mohr.
Like many other sports, girls volleyball faces several restrictions including a shorter season and limited audience. Because of this, the athletes are disappointed to have less time, but they are grateful for the chance to play. The limited audience also affects the game setting, as many players miss the crowd’s energy. Despite these changes, the athletes work to play at their best in any conditions.
As the team’s enthusiasm prompts them to persevere, their ability and teamwork improves. The athletes express that the sport helped them develop physically and socially.
“It did impact my confidence—definitely boosted it. I made a lot of friends through volleyball, so it also just made me a more outgoing person and a more competitive person,” said Kristy Ly ‘21, who plans to continue playing volleyball for fun after high school. The seniors also emphasize that their team chemistry improved as they became closer. As the athletes improved individually, they were able to strengthen their teamwork, allowing them to work off of each other.
As a senior, Colleen Tonra ‘21 played all four years, serving for Varsity during her freshman year.
Exploring her interests, she started playing her freshman year, and her passion now motivates her to stay involved after high school.
“You might not think you’re very good at first, but if you work at it, it’s a skill that you develop over time. It’s not something you’re gonna pick up overnight,” said Colleen. In other words, patience and perseverance enable growth, leading to stronger bonds with teammates. Coaches and athletes alike stress the importance of this mental resilience, and teammates are crucial for kindling this strength in each other.
To celebrate the seniors and their progress over the years, the Girls Volleyball team held their Senior Day on March 27, 2021. As the seniors entered the gym, they received roses and gifts from their family and friends. Shortly after, they took their first home win against North Brunswick, pushing to a close third set. In volleyball, there is a maximum of three sets, each played to 25, and the teams must keep at least 2 points ahead. If the first 2 sets are won, the third match is not played. In the end, they were able to get 11 aces, 16 kills, 2 blocks, 39 digs, and 15 assists with libero Kristy Ly ‘21 digging 18 balls, opposite hitter Grace Dicarlo getting 4 aces, and outside hitter Rebecca Engholm ‘21 getting 3 kills. After the match, the seniors enjoyed treats and heartfelt speeches prepared by the juniors.
The new head coach, Coach Morrow, is a returning volleyball coach. She now faces the challenges of the pandemic, and she emphasizes “the importance of being careful and following the guideline of the school, state, and CDC.” Along with wearing masks and sanitizing, “[we] have changed the way we greet other teams, we do not change benches, and we try our best to social distance,” she said. Despite these circumstances, her love for coaching remains. Her passion stems from her understanding of the gains of playing a sport, an experience she wants to create for her players. Thus, she continually pushes her players to become better and stronger as a team.
Along with the new safety protocols, Coach Morrow is simultaneously tackling both the Girls and Boys season. As the Girls season was pushed back, it now overlaps with the Boys season. “Managing both teams is exciting and challenging. When I coached both before we had two separate seasons… My mind is always shifting gears and with organization, great assistant coaches in Coach Wernlund, Coach Mohr, and Coach McKnight, the support of Mr. Sandaal, Ms. O’Boyle, and Mr. Root, enable both the Girls and Boys teams to have a memorable year,” said Coach Morrow. Despite all the challenges, she and the other coaches wish to provide a fun, memorable experience for all the athletes. The coaches and girls players must now prepare for their next season a few months away.