High school volleyball players returned to their courts recently, facing the new normal of playing the game they love in the time of Covid-19: wearing face coverings while working out, hitting sanitized volleyballs back and forth, and players and coaches keeping a six-foot physical distance from each other.
“It’s unprecedented,” said longtime Moriarty High School head volleyball coach Kim Bell during one of her workouts this week. “My whole career, as an athlete and a coach, I’ve never seen anything like this.”
The season is scheduled to officially start with full practices on Oct. 5. The first games are scheduled to kick off as early as Oct. 10—unless the governor says that schools are not able to because of the Covid-19 cases in the state, according to New Mexico Activities Association executive director Sally Marquez.
Some area teams have been working out longer than others, some players haven’t touched a volleyball since last year, and everyone is trying to adapt to the NMAA’s guidelines.
After last year’s campaign ended with an overall record of 12-12 and a second-round state playoff loss to former district rival Magdalena, head coach Glenda Noblitt described the Lady Bears’ season as “a wild roller-coaster ride.”
This season could be similar, but Noblitt was very upbeat during a Lady Bears’ workout this week. She said her girls initially got together for a few weeks in the summer when the NMAA allowed small groups, or “pods,” comprising five-players-per-coach. The team resumed workouts on Sept. 14. Now that the NMAA has increased the pod sizes to a 9-1 ratio, the Lady Bears have been doing three workouts a week, and Noblitt said her team is “in pretty good shape.”
“I have eight seniors, I’ve called them my rainbows and unicorns group since they were little because they’re always happy,” Noblitt said. “They know the game, I feel like our volleyball IQ is pretty good, and they have a really good attitude, so I enjoy coming in and working with them, it makes me happy.”
One of Noblitt’s former players, Taylor Smythe, a standout who graduated in 2018 and played two years of college volleyball, is helping as an assistant coach.
“She brings a lot of knowledge and knows a lot about what to do in certain situations,” Noblitt said of Smyth. “And it’s exciting that she played a little college ball because she brings some terms and different ways of teaching.”
Noblitt said her team is very versatile—many girls are capable of playing different positions—they just need to tighten up in some areas, and she needs to determine who will be the best fit in which spot, adding, “They’re excited to be here and I’m happy for them to be able to be in here, they need something—and if we don’t win a state trophy, it’s still a win.”
Estancia’s new District 2-2A includes Menaul and Santa Fe charter schools Monte del Sol and Tierra Encantada. The Lady Bears’ season kicks off Oct. 15 at Pecos.
The Lady Timberwolves just started working out last week when the NMAA expanded the pod sizes. Head coach Kasi Giovenco said the team didn’t do any summer workouts with the 5-to-1 pods, and with the 9-to-1 pods, “It helps a lot, it works out well for us.”
She said her initial game plan is to get the girls’ hands back on a ball, adding, “A lot of them haven’t touched a ball since quarantine.”
Giovenco’s been holding three workouts a week, and said she has a good amount of incoming freshmen. “Right now, we’re just kind of getting our eyes on everyone, seeing who we have, and what holes we need to fill.”
Regarding her players wearing masks while working out, she said, “Some of them were like, ‘Whatever.’ I think they’re just happy to be here.”
Giovenco said she’s evaluating “where everyone is at—not just skill-wise, but mentally,” and she’s seen a lot of good attitudes: “This is their getaway, this is their mental break, and I think everyone’s just so amped to finally be doing it again.”
East Mountain kicks off its season Oct. 13 against Robertson.
The Lady Pintos have less than two weeks until their first match. Head coach Kim Bell said that before starting their workouts three weeks ago, some of her players hadn’t touched a volleyball since last November, but everyone is excited to be back.
“I just think it’s been wonderful for the kids to get back in the gym and have something to work towards,” Bell said.
She said Moriarty didn’t participate in any summer workouts because the 5-to-1 pods “were not very conducive to volleyball.”
Now that the team is getting back on track, Bell said the turnout has been great—45 girls have been coming out, including a large number of freshmen—and the players’ attitudes and energy levels have been good. She said the challenge is to get the kids back into the swing of things without overdoing it.
“I think everybody’s a little behind because we should all be in the same boat, and my biggest concern is, the kids not being in volleyball shape and going right into matches,” Bell said, adding, “The volleyball’s just gonna take some time but that’s just the way it’s gonna be this year.”
Bell said her team will be a little more cautious than in the past in terms of how aggressive they play, and just keeping the ball in play will be one of the main goals.
And with all the NMAA restrictions, particularly those concerning matches, Bell said the biggest challenge will be keeping a positive perspective on the season.
“It’s gonna be very different but that’s just the new norm right now. If we get a chance to play in these circumstances, let’s be excited about that,” Bell said, adding, “These kids are gonna be able to look back and tell their kids and their grandkids they played volleyball in the middle of a pandemic—there’s a lot of things that still need to come into play, but if it all works out, they’re gonna look back and be able to say, ‘That was a cool thing.’”
The Lady Pintos’ season kicks off Oct. 10.
Mountainair High’s athletic director, Consuelo Brazil, said the Lady Mustangs’ volleyball team has been working out three days a week for the past couple of weeks under their new head coach Sheldon Roberts.
The Independent did not hear back from Coach Roberts for further comment before going to print.
Ger has been writing and shooting photos of high school sports for The Independent for 15 years. His dedication to youth athletics goes beyond sports reporting. He is past president of East Mountain Little League and works as a baseball umpire. He lives in Edgewood with his family.