Student-athlete weighs in on COVID-19’s effect on fall season

Eastern Kentucky University junior volleyball defensive specialist, Sydney Schoen practices with her team in Alumni Coliseum. 

On Aug. 14, the Ohio Valley Conference announced fall sports, except for football, will be postponed until the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many athletes are now left to come to terms with the news, including Eastern Kentucky University junior volleyball defensive specialist, Sydney Schoen.

For Schoen, competing in a volleyball season this fall was something she wanted, but if it was not safe to do so, she fully understood the decision.

 “Of course I wanted to play if we were capable, but with the circumstances, I understand that might not be the most safe thing to do,” Schoen said.

Before the decision was made, the team began practices with new protocols in place to maintain the health and safety of both players and coaches. Schoen explained that the team was split into two pods when they first got back to campus. Each pod practiced at a different time, and players stayed within their designated pod. Switching between pods was not allowed.

At each practice, players wore face masks, balls were wiped down and specific carts were used for each pod. Everything was sanitized as well. Now, the team also has one team practice a week, where the same protocols apply.

For each player, including Schoen, it was an adjustment having to wear a mask during practices.

Schoen said, “It’s a little bit harder to practice with a mask but you start to get used to it, and you just have to think this is the safest thing to do, and it’s all about keeping yourself safe along with your teammates.”

When the pandemic caused students to finish the semester at home in March, Schoen had to find other ways to stay prepared for the season when a volleyball court was not readily available. During that time, she focused on other important skills such as footwork and speed. Despite the circumstances, she was able to stay mentally prepared knowing the possibility of having a fall season was still present.

“I really had to stay focused on getting better every single day no matter if we’re competing this fall or if it is delayed. I just had to keep that mindset of getting better,” Schoen said.

Even though the season is now postponed until the spring, Schoen and the rest of the team are looking at the positives in this situation. The extra time now allows the team to create a team culture and improve individual and team skills. Schoen noted that the team has “quite a few” new players, so this time is crucial in building team chemistry on and off the court.

“We’ve definitely become a lot closer because we’ve all been hanging out within our team,” Schoen said. “We’re able to do practices and we’re really taking the time to get to know each other.”

The movement of the season to the spring presents a new challenge for Schoen. She is a member of both the indoor and beach volleyball team, and the ability to compete in both seasons at the same time is still unknown. It is uncertain how the schedules for the two sports will be affected, but Schoen still hopes to participate in both if possible.

“The first piece is focusing on indoor and if I’m able to play beach, then doing that afterwards,” Schoen said.

This is an unprecedented time for every student-athlete. The movement of the season was not what Schoen planned, but there is still something from this time she hopes to remember even after the pandemic ends. She said she learned the importance of “just really taking the time to focus on yourself and trying to get better individually, so that whenever I step out on the court I am able to contribute something to the team to make the team better.”

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