Prep Volleyball

Masked and motivated, Iowa City High opens volleyball practice

Still reeling from the death of a teammate, 'tight-knit' Little Hawks take first steps of the 2020 season

Iowa City High volleyball coach Tricia Carty motions to her team during a 2018 match. The Little Hawks were one of hundr
Iowa City High volleyball coach Tricia Carty motions to her team during a 2018 match. The Little Hawks were one of hundreds of Iowa high school teams that began practice Monday. (The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Volleyball lends itself to socialness, not social distancing.

Upon every point, both teams congregate at the center of their respective sides of the court for congratulations or consolation.

Probably not this year.

“We’ve talked about this being a year of adjustments,” said Tricia Carty, head coach at Iowa City High.

The Little Hawks were among 300-plus high school teams in Iowa that began practice Monday, meeting from 7:30 to 9:30 in the morning and noon to 2 p.m.

“It’s good to get back in the gym,” said Makayla Ribble, a junior setter. “Our word of the day is FAMILY. It’s just different to show family like this.”

With the high school gym under renovation, the varsity is practicing at South East Junior High. It’s inconvenient, yes, but it’s air-conditioned.

Other than the end of the morning practice, when they went through a six-on-six scrimmage, the Little Hawks were masked up.

“Instead of talking, everybody has to yell,” senior defensive specialist Maya Morales said. “As a defensive player, I have to talk a lot. When I yell, the mask sometimes comes down.”

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City High is coming off a 17-15 season in 2019. The Little Hawks are still reeling from the July 6 death of middle hitter Emma Nugent.

“Everything with Emma showed that nothing can be taken for granted,” Carty said. “Everything, you should be grateful for.

“Emma embodied what we want City High volleyball to be. She was a hard worker.”

Nugent’s death has further galvanized a team that Carty said was “a pretty tight-knit group” anyway.

“Our season is dedicated to her,” Morales said.

The Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union recently published a lengthy list of coronavirus-related guidelines. Among them:

• Pre- and postmatch handshakes between teams are prohibited. Teams should acknowledge their opponents with a wave, bow, or other pleasantry after introductions and/or after the match.

• Teams will not switch benches between sets, unless officials determine that a “distinct disadvantage” is present on one side of the net.

• All players must sanitize their hands before and after warm-ups, at all timeouts, between sets and anytime they leave the playing court. Coaches are strongly encouraged to sanitize their hands as often as possible as well.

Competition for Iowa high schools begins Aug. 24. Defending state champions are Cedar Falls (Class 5A), Sergeant Bluff-Luton (4A), Mount Vernon (3A), Western Christian (2A) and Sidney (1A). City High, meanwhile, can probably be viewed as a longshot to reach the U.S. Cellular Center.

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“We’re going into this, we’re the underdogs,” Morales said. “But we’re getting stronger, and I think we’re going to have a really good season.”

Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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