A fall filled with club, contact days and other sports
When the 2019 girls volleyball season neared its conclusion, Bill Schreier and Karen Naymola found themselves on the same court watching their teams play for a spot in the Class 4A state tournament.
Schreier's Wheaton Warrenville South squad edged Naymola's Huntley team that November night in the Class 4A Streamwood sectional on its way to finishing second in state.
Now the Tigers, Red Raiders and rest of state's volleyball teams are on hold, waiting until February when the IHSA's new spring season starts with typical fall sports girls volleyball, boys soccer and football added to it.
A fall without high school volleyball certainly is an adjustment for coaches, players, club teams and everyone involved in the sport -- though all the remote learners and educators know it's not the only one.
"With everything else going on, school has kept me so busy I couldn't even imagine adding the demands of the season," Schreier said.
A new routine
Normally the fall is when club volleyball takes a break. This year most clubs have flipped their season so girls can play club in the fall. Instead of their traditional club season in the spring, that has been left open for high school.
Naymola is coaching this fall at the new Mission club in Marengo and Crystal Lake, formerly Fusion. They will start their season Sept. 29, take a break from February through April, then return to get ready for summer nationals.
While most clubs are making the switch, there could be some conflicts in the spring with several national qualifiers. Those provide players a chance to be seen by college coaches playing against top club teams from surrounding states that, unlike Illinois, didn't move their high school volleyball seasons to the spring.
Hersey coach Nancy Lill was among those hoping the IHSA would make a one-year exception to its rule not allowing both high school and club play. Last week the IHSA announced it would not.
"We really should not be putting these athletes where they have to choose between high school and club," Lill said. "I am one to be receptive if we don't have tournaments on a weekend why shouldn't my athlete be able to be seen playing in a big qualifier?"
The IHSA did allow volleyball coaches contact 20 days this fall to work with their teams. Naymola began her practices last week.
"Can't wait to get back into the gym and have a little bit of normalcy," Naymola said. "I have missed the typical fall and all the girls."
Many volleyball players are still involved in their sport, playing club and now returning for contact days.
But some opted for new fall sports that in the past conflicted with volleyball. Huntley's Emily Willis went out for tennis.
Mary Kate Fahey, the starting setter and point guard at Hersey, has gone from a two-sport to three-sport athlete by playing second doubles on the tennis team.
Schreier said a few of his freshmen tried golf. He's also looking forward to the contact days.
"I am treating these contact days like spring volleyball and football in college," Schreier said. "My mentality is that this is some extra practice time to work on analysis of the players in the program and hopefully put them in positions to truly get a great read of their capabilities and try some things that might be effective. The season usually starts so quickly after tryouts that you just go with what works and that is about it. Hopefully over these 20 days we can get a good feel for what everyone can bring to the table."
Quite an adjustment
Lill has been Hersey's coach since 1988. She got her start in teaching and coaching at Wheeling in 1980, and before that played college and high school volleyball. So to find a time her fall didn't involve volleyball, Lill had to think back to the early 1970s.
"Very, very, very strange for me," Lill said.
All that time she used to spend in the gym, Lill said she's found a new passion.
"I play pickle ball every day," she said. "I've filled the void with pickle ball but I still love coaching volleyball and I am very excited about the season coming up and I'm thankful they didn't cancel it. That was my biggest concern."
Lill has been treating contact days similar to summer camp. Disinfecting balls before and after practice, plenty of hand sanitizer and Lill makes sure her players put their bags and water bottles more than six feet from each other.
The veteran coach is giving more water breaks than ever as her players adjust to practicing while wearing masks.
"Playing in a mask is not easy," Lill said. "It is difficult. I've done it. I tell the girls if you have any issues whatsoever with breathing, if you are having a rough time, you don't have to say a word, step out from what we are doing."
When the calendar turns to the spring season, which runs from Feb. 15 to May 1, the schedule is up in the air. The IHSA did announce last week that more matches will be allowed than the two per week in its original plan. The postseason is still uncertain.
For Schreier, who also coaches WW South's boys volleyball team that lost its spring season, that gave him a different perspective.
"It has definitely been a tough go for the girls, but at least they are hopefully going to get a season," he said.