Wesmen mask up for practice

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Court shoes, knee pads — and face masks? That could become the new norm for volleyball players in the near future.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/10/2020 (660 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Court shoes, knee pads — and face masks? That could become the new norm for volleyball players in the near future.

While current regulations don’t require players to wear face masks to bump, set and spike, University of Winnipeg Wesmen women’s volleyball team players were wearing them on the court Monday afternoon at the Duckworth Centre. It was the team’s first practice wearing face coverings while doing team drills and scrimmaging.

“We’ve been wearing masks all the time except when we got in the gym we’d stop,” said coach Phil Hudson.

“Just with the scenario, I thought ‘You know what, maybe (they’ll be mandatory) moving forward in January if anybody gets a chance to play, especially for the high school club kids.’ If we show we can do it at this level, then the high school kids should be able to do it for their club seasons, too. Kids are having a little harder time breathing, but you know what, it’s better than sitting at home watching TV and not having a chance to take part in an activity.”

The Canada West season has been cancelled, the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association isn’t sanctioning any tournaments and club teams are delaying their registrations, but that doesn’t mean all volleyball activities in Manitoba have been spiked. Volleyball Manitoba has been in the third stage of its return-to-play plan since the beginning of the month. It allows for full indoor training, including six-on-six scrimmages on a regulation-sized court. Other than sporting facilities being restricted to operating at 25 per cent of their usual capacity, the province’s new prevention orders that began Monday did not change things for the local volleyball scene.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
University of Winnipeg volleyball players practice with masks on at the university Monday.

“We factor in the cumulative 15-minute guidelines that public health has in place,” said Volleyball Manitoba executive director John Blacher.

“When you’re playing volleyball, when you would breach that two-metre barrier is within the net zone area, but it’s instantaneous or it’s a very short interaction, right? Two seconds, three seconds, then they can go back to maintaining distance again. A volleyball game, if you implement a few different protocols in place, can be played with relative distancing in mind.”

The Wesmen, University of Manitoba Bisons and several high schools around town are doing some level of training and trying to make the best out of the guidelines. Volleyball Manitoba will be having an online meeting with club teams this week to discuss what competition could potentially look like in the winter. The club season typically starts after the high school season concludes.

As for the school teams, Blacher is hoping they’ll be able to have some level of competition, but nothing has been confirmed.

“In this scenario, I think you have to look at it as the glass is half full, not half empty. It’s the only way to get through this and we’re just going to go week by week.”
– U of W Wesmen volleyball coach Phil Hudson

“We’re going to be moving ahead with the competition side but we won’t suggest it should take place in areas within the orange COVID caution level,” Blacher said.

“There are some divisions in rural Manitoba that might look at doing some level of game play within their zone or in their division, but in Winnipeg and the other areas that are within the orange zone, it wouldn’t be in effect until we get out of that level.”

For the Wesmen, Bisons and Brandon University Bobcats, the best-case scenario for them is getting the OK to play exhibition matches against one another. Regardless if that comes to fruition, players will not lose a year of eligibility. It’s far from ideal, but Hudson and his players are finding positives in the situation.

“In this scenario, I think you have to look at it as the glass is half full, not half empty. It’s the only way to get through this and we’re just going to go week by week,” said Hudson, who was the team’s interim head coach last season before he was given the job full time in March.

“We’ll try to get better and set goals just like normal. Lots of athletes train way more than they compete to go to the Olympics and things like that. We’ll just have to adjust our focus on training. It gives the kids a chance to get a lot better without worrying about playing and winning. There’s a lot of benefits about that.”

Fifth-year Wesmen middle blocker Jess Friesen admitted practising in a mask was a bit of an adjustment, but echoed her coach’s message on how they believe it’s important to set a good example for other teams. Despite the restrictions, the masks and cancellations, Friesen is looking at the coming months as a valuable opportunity.

“For the team, it’s a year to work,” Friesen said. “It sucks in the moment, but it’s not like it’s just us, it’s everybody. It’s not just sports, everybody’s lives have changed through this.”

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen
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Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...

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Updated on Monday, October 19, 2020 10:47 PM CDT: Adds photo

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