CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa volleyball is among may programs dealing with the disappointment of fall sports canceled because of COVID-19.
Magnifying the pain of a canceled fall season is the fact UNI was the Missouri Valley Conference defending regular season champion, with expectations to return to the NCAA tournament.
“Obviously, we’re just extremely disappointed,” UNI Coach Bobbi Petersen said. “There’s a lot of emotions, obviously. The hardest part is I think that I felt really good about the sacrifices, the commitment, the different things that we went through as a team, university, athletic department to try to give ourselves the best opportunity — if we were allowed — to play this fall.”
With the MVC now putting its focus on manufacturing a spring season, there is as much optimism as there is skepticism about conquering the logistics to make it happen.
“Our biggest challenge right now is we have no idea how to navigate the fall,” Petersen said. “If we have a spring season, right now, we have no idea what that looks like. We don’t know when it starts. How long it is. So, any kind of practicing right now is going to count against the number of days that you have to practice in what is going to be your actual season in the spring.”
If the MVC and its schools can find an agreeable way to conduct the volleyball season this spring what it can’t do is predict what will happen with the COVID-19 pandemic.
While there’s been encouraging numbers, as well as new developments with testing and treatments for the virus in recent weeks, there can be no certainty as to whether or not the season will happen short of the creation and distribution of a vaccine.
Petersen, however, believes there will potentially be a way to play safely this spring without one.
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“I do think that having a little bit more time as to what (it all) looks like and having testing that will possibly be easier, (with) results faster and cheaper — I think some of those things can definitely help make a spring possible without a vaccine,” Petersen said. “I think that if we had a little bit more time we could have even made it work this fall.”
As Petersen and her players go back into wait-and-see mode again, the 22nd-year coach points out training this fall won’t have the same effect because the semester ends early on Nov. 21. She has to find answers to new, unprecedented problems and is investing more time than ever before into making sure her players stay mentally sharp.
“I think the mental side of things right now, to me, is almost more important than the physical part of it,” Petersen said. “(Returners) are going through the process, but then they’re not getting to get on the court and compete. Then, you have new student-athletes that have absolutely no idea what it looks like and so when you actually get into the grind they’re not going to be used to it.”
Other obstacles the Panthers face is what their two seniors who are on track to graduate in December will decide.
Kate Busswitz, a first team All-MVC honoree, and Taylor Hedges, an integral defensive specialist, are undecided on whether or not they’ll stick around to play in the spring.
“I think if you could tell them, we 100 percent are going to have a spring season, the decision of what they’re going to do might be a little bit easier,” Petersen said. “Since it’s so unknown and they have plans going forward it makes it a little bit more challenging to make that decision.
“They’re not ready to make that decision yet.”