On one hand, Washington State volleyball coach Jen Greeny is happy her players will have a season after months of COVID-19-related uncertainty and unknowns.
On the other hand, the Cougars open at home Friday against Oregon and Wednesday’s practice was just the team’s fifth full workout since returning to campus from the holiday break.
“It’s been really hard with having the fall season canceled and not knowing week to week what was going to happen,” Greeny said. “The players are very excited to play. We as coaches are definitely a little more cautious and worried about the health side.
“We tried to get them back (earlier), but then with quarantine issues and things like that … As a coach, I worry about fatigue or injury and we definitely don’t want that. On the other hand, these players have not had a real sense of normalcy as far as being able to practice and play, and that’s really what they want to do.”
The Cougars received 68 points, the most among teams outside the Top 25 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association preseason poll. Magda Jehlárová, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection and the first Cougar to win the AVCA National Freshman of the Year award, leads a talented group of returners.
Setter Hannah Pukis was honorable mention All-Pac-12 and joined outside hitter Pia Timmer and Jehlárová as all-freshman selections.
“We are not ready to play, but we’re going to play,” said Greeny, who has guided WSU to four straight NCAA Tournaments. “The girls are excited to play. As far as being physically ready, no. We’re probably going to make a lot of substitutions and use different lineups for the first few weeks.”
Pac-12 schools are scheduled to play 22 matches, usually a two-game series at the same site each week to reduce travel during the pandemic. For example, WSU entertains Oregon on Friday and Sunday before visiting Arizona State Jan. 28 and 30.
Two-time defending national champion Stanford has already canceled its first four matches in response to Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 restrictions.
The Big Sky and West Coast conferences are playing matches on back-to-back days at the same site. The Big Sky’s eight-team tournament is scheduled for March 31-April 2 in Greeley, Colorado.
The NCAA Tournament will likely be 48 teams. The Final Four is scheduled for April 22 and 24 in Omaha, Nebraska.
The Pac-12 and Big Sky require masks be worn in practice and games. The WCC doesn’t require masks. WSU players are taking COVID-19 tests twice a week. Idaho tests players once a week.
“The first couple weeks they all struggled with it, but they’re getting used to it,” Idaho coach Debbie Buchanan said of wearing masks. “Is it fun? No, but again they want to play and we’re going to do what we can to make sure that happens.
“By doing that (wearing masks) the girls only have to get tested one time a week. We’re trying to social distance, keep masks on and make good decisions.”
The Vandals haven’t had a typical preseason. Players returning to campus after the break were required to quarantine and then take a COVID test on Jan. 4. Idaho didn’t have a full roster when practices started Jan. 6.
“Normally, when you go into a season you’ve had all summer lifting and they have their legs under them when we start,” Buchanan said. “With this, it’s been a little difficult and we had to change training a little bit. It’s hard when you take seven weeks off and jump back into it.”
Whitworth is scheduled to open its 12-game Northwest Conference schedule on Feb. 5. The Pirates will play four matches against Whitman, Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran. The Division III national tournament has been canceled.
North Idaho College coach Kelsey Stanley anticipates full practices starting next month with NWAC East Region matches probably beginning in April.
“We had maybe two weeks of full practice this fall,” Stanley said.
“I truly haven’t seen them play. We have four girls that didn’t come in the fall and they’re here now. It’s like starting all over again.”
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