To say the 2020 high school volleyball season in Maine was not the norm would be a massive understatement.

Before it even began, it seemed the fate of the season hung in the balance on a daily basis, as the Maine Principals’ Association worked with state officials to agree on a set of COVID-19 safety guidelines. Finally, it was decided the MPA could not sponsor a volleyball season (as well as a football season).

Area teams, however, made the most of it, taking the game outdoors with practices, scrimmages and even some matches with neighboring schools.

“We were just waiting to see what was going to happen (for the season),” Gardiner volleyball coach Tiffany Grover said. “Then, we got the word a week before our season would normally start that we would have to be outside only. That was a huge kind of a panic mode. Like, ‘OK, we’re going to have to switch outside.’ We didn’t have any outdoor equipment. But, our boosters and our parents really came together and we were able to purchase outdoor equipment.”

The Tigers were able to have four matches — two at home, two on the road — and even got to play their home matches on Hoch Field.

“We were able to play our home games on the football field, which was pretty cool,” Grover said. “That was kind of a cool experience. We kind of made history, it was the first outdoor volleyball Gardiner’s ever had. We just looked at it (as) a positive, that this is kind of a cool thing. There was kind of a panic (in the players), ‘I don’t think I can play on the grass.’ But they adjusted so well, and they were just so happy to be playing and to be touching a volleyball.”

Likewise, Cony was also able to practice outdoors, and also managed a couple of matches, including one against Messalonskee.

“Overall, it was a good experience,” Cony coach Lindsey Morin said. “Obviously, anything and everything that we could do was different from the norm. But we made the most of it. Being outside, it was nice, getting some fresh air. … I think the girls were really happy to have something to hold on to, not knowing that we (might) have a tweener season, or a spring season or nothing at all. We were really happy that so many girls stayed with the program instead of switching to different sports. We made it as normal as we could. We still did our awards, still tracked our stats and did everything we normally would to make it as meaningful for the team as possible.”

Cony volleyball player Tess Towle hits the ball during a Sept. 10 practice in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file photo Buy this Photo

Morin praised her team for being able to make adjustments to the outdoor game, as different factors came into play.

“There was a slight curve in the beginning, with the wind and the sun,” Morin said. “But once we got used to that, it was fun. The hurdles for us, the net kind of lagged a little bit, and it wasn’t as high as it normally would be. For serving and for hitting, and blocking, that definitely made a difference. Even when other teams would come to play us, it was the same (hurdles) for everyone. It was an even playing field, so it was adjustments for everyone.”

A team with a different twist amongst the area teams was Messalonskee. This fall was supposed to be the varsity debut of the Eagles. In a way, Messalonskee still made its debut, holding its own in a few regional matches. The Eagles were able to do some preseason work indoors in small groups, but unlike Cony and Gardiner, Messalonskee did not have the means to be able to practice outdoors.

“We just went into (matches) cold every time,” Messalonskee co-coach Pia Cellamare said. “We didn’t have a net set up anywhere. We never, ever got to practice as a whole team, because we were never able to go inside. And then we never had the ability to go outside, because we didn’t have the facilities. In some games we played, we might have done better. The wind played a huge factor in some games. The net was lower than it normally would have been. It’s really hard playing when there weren’t walls, just spatially trying to find out where you were.”

Cellamare said the player turnout has been huge for the program.

“If there’s a true season in the spring, we may have to make cuts,” Cellamare said. “We have such a high number of girls trying out. And we have a lot of great freshmen this year.”

In the end, the patience and adjustment to the situation may have a payoff. Last week, it was reported the MPA is moving forward with a possible “tweener” season — between the winter and spring — that would involve both indoor volleyball and wrestling.

“I think the girls will be excited,” Grover said. “The grass was cool, but it was also not their normal season. They didn’t get that normal experience, especially my seniors, they didn’t get that experience of playing in their home gym for the last time, having their senior night. I think the girls will be ecstatic if we have an indoor season, however it may look like. I think they’ll be happy being on their court again, playing, hopefully against other schools. They definitely missed that this year.”

Cellamare is hopeful for a season to keep the momentum of the program.

“We’ve been saying to the younger girls, ‘Stick with us,'” Cellamare said. “We had some of the girls play field hockey. Every time we would see them, we went, ‘You’re not going to stick with field hockey, are you? You’re coming back, right?’ And they were like ‘Oh yeah, don’t worry, we just wanted to stay in shape.’ We obviously want to keep these girls together and grow with volleyball. A lot of these girls, at least the freshmen, have never touched a volleyball before. It’s amazing to see how far they’ve come in those weeks. I’d hate to lose that, I’d hate to lose some of these girls. But I think most of them are going to stick with it, I hope.”

 

Dave Dyer — 621-5610

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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