Boys volleyball: The season that would've been held plenty of promise
The last time the Stevenson boys volleyball team was together on the practice court, coach Eric Goolish stepped aside to quietly observe the final 45 minutes by himself.
More than two months later it's a memory he savors. The COVID-19 pandemic ended the Patriots' season -- and the season of every other boys volleyball team in Illinois -- before it got a chance to really get beyond tryouts.
"I was worried this was going to happen," Goolish said of what would have been his seventh season leading the Patriots. "As a coach, in hindsight I'm very grateful that I did that."
Like so many teams, the Patriots had high expectations. They had a strong, veteran roster of good athletes who got along well together. It was a season the program had been building to for years.
"You coach for lots of reasons, not just to win championships," Goolish said. "The other side of the coin is you work so hard for multiple years to line up pieces. Things were lined up well for us to have a very strong season."
Goolish is a math teacher. He estimates he spends 250-300 hours a season with his teams.
"And for us to not have that with each other is the saddest part of it all," he said. "And then the cherry on top is we think the hours would have been spent winning some championships along the way."
"That senior year is so important and so valuable for kids," added Barrington coach Rob Ridenour, whose team returned five players from last year's state quarterfinal squad.
The Patriots and Broncos weren't the only teams excited for a promising season. St. Francis coach Mike Lynch also had big aspirations for his team, led by 6-foot-8 senior middle Bryce Walker, one of the top players in the nation, plus K.J. Glab and Aiden Benson in a very strong junior class.
"That's very unusual to have three kids from the same high school in the same year," Lynch said. "Can you imagine what those three would have been like on the court?"
It helps that St. Francis could be very good again next season, assuming there is a next season. Eight players who would have been regulars in 2020 will be back in 2021.
"We're definitely looking forward to next season. We're in a very good position," Lynch said.
There is still hope in some school districts for summer camps in July. But that's no sure thing, and special accommodations likely will have to be made. It's unlikely a school's many programs will be allowed to practice one right after another.
"You just can't do that," St. Charles North coach Todd Weimer said. "You've got to sanitize. You've got to clean. You've got to have some time in between sessions and transitions. I would imagine maybe having different groups coming through different doors in the gym."
For now many teams continue with virtual activities.
"I wasn't going to just stay at home and just do whatever and enjoy the one-month, two-month, three-month vacation," Weimer said. "I decided to take matters into my own hands and still do check-ins and still kind of have a virtual season."
As May slips away into a memory, Weimer finds it harder to keep his seniors' attention.
"But my two sophomores and my seven juniors I think are still trying to prove a point," he said. "They want to make varsity next year. They want to show coach that, hey, we still do care and we want to make an effort to get better."