Back to business, UWO Volleyball returns to practice

Cory Sparks, Assistant Sports Editor

“We’re back.”

Those were the two words that UW Oshkosh women’s volleyball coach Jonathan Ellmann said regarding the team’s future practice plans (according to Clash the Titan).

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced cancellations or postponings in nearly every sport, has made its way well into the fall sports season. The Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) statement that was made on July 27 regarding the cancellation of fall sports conferences, seasons and championships included the UWO women’s volleyball team, but that doesn’t mean that the team cannot get better together.

Ever since students had to leave the UWO campus in March due to the spread of COVID-19, the team’s coaches have held weekly meetings with the players to discuss each step leading up to the new practice procedures that were implemented for this fall. (Photo courtesy of @UWOshkoshVolleyball on Twitter)

“Our season was canceled, so we will be 0-0 in [the 2020-21 season], but we may be able to scrimmage or play exhibition [matches] in the spring,” Ellmann said.

The team held its very first practice of the semester on Wednesday, Oct. 7, from 5-7 p.m. This was one of the first times that the team was physically together for volleyball since the pandemic struck, and the experience was a positive one for the players.

“My initial reaction when I heard that volleyball practice would resume was excitement and jitters,” UWO junior and middle hitter Taylor Allen said. “I wanted to leave my last mark on the volleyball program here at UWO, and I was more than excited to put my gear on after many long months outside of the gym.”

Even with isolated team practices, changes had to be implemented into the practice procedures in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For the moment, the entire team cannot collect into the same area for the same practice drill. Nonetheless, the team’s clearance to be able to practice was met with a lot of gratitude.

“It’s amazing. [It] almost doesn’t seem real,” Ellmann said. “We’ve adapted to an online curriculum since last spring, and things aren’t back to normal, but it’s really rewarding to be back in the same space working toward a common goal with the amazing women that make up our program.”

Coach Ellmann had to inform his players about these new procedures as everyone went into the team’s first practice session in months.

“We are in phase one with 10 or less [players] on a court, wearing masks, distancing when possible, and limiting equipment to each group/pod of 10,” Ellmann said. “We are using the first two weeks of phase one to review/learn our fundamental principles and keys as well as competing in small group formats.”

Each player had their own ways of adjusting to the situation accordingly while still improving their volleyball skillset. This means that there are different challenges for each player in terms of the adjustments they had to make during the first team practice of the year.

“I’ve been playing sand volleyball all summer, so I knew the adjustment from sand to hardcourt would be tough, but I’m a competitor and I love the feeling of competing again,” Allen, who has 328 kills in her two years on the team, said. “Knowing there will be practices to compete in is awesome.”

The team had a successful season last year, finishing with a 21-10 record while going 4-3 in conference. The team had records of 9-4 in home games, 4-4 in away games and went 8-4 on neutral grounds where neither team had the home court.

Going into this year, there is a lot of confidence coming from UWO’s volleyball team. The success and bond established among one another last year have led to a lot of morale from the team as it begins a season of uncharted waters.

From the veterans all the way down to the women who just had their first volleyball practice as a Titan, the consensus is that this team is bound to experience feats of improvement and success.

“Last year was a great year for us and we grew a lot as a team,” Allen said. “I think the addition of the new freshman class will boost that even more. This is a great opportunity for us to grow as a team and make huge strides in our gameplay.”

The coach is just as much, if not more optimistic in his expectations for the team’s performance going into the year. He has confidence in the women’s team to consistently make decisions out of the best interest of everyone on the court.

“We have an extremely high character group that cares about doing the right things for the right reasons on a day-to-day basis,” Ellmann said. “It would be an understatement to say that we are anything less than extremely motivated to take advantage of every opportunity that we have to move the needle forward.”

With a team that is ready to embrace any challenge that may come their way in this season full of unprecedented procedures, two things can be said about this team.

They’re back, and they’re ready.