Prep volleyball, football teams learn how to approach long breaks due to COVID-19

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Mount Vernon/Plankinton coach Brent Olson watches as the Titans run a play during warm-ups before their game against Winner on Monday, Sept. 28 in Mount Vernon. (Matt Gade / Republic)

It’s been a season of adjusting for many teams in the state.

The season could be rolling along in the thick of the schedule, and then suddenly come to a screeching halt. What was two or three games a week becomes a week or a month without even a practice.

It’s the reality of playing sports during the COVID-19 pandemic. It leaves teams scrambling to find replacements games, but also how to approach an unexpected break in the middle of a season.

“It’s such a mental game right now because they have to be so mentally prepared for that to happen,” Chamberlain volleyball coach Amy Donovan said after her team missed a week of practices in September due to COVID-19. “We had been going great, and then it just stopped.”

Every team approaches an unexpected break differently.


While most teams use Hudl to watch film, and the teams with strong bonds don’t see them get weaker during the time off, how they approached the physical aspect of the game varies.

Chamberlain, which didn’t play a game for 12 days, opted not to send at-home workouts. It was able to practice the Monday before its first game back, but the inability to touch a volleyball for a week showed with an out-of-sync performance right out of the gate, according to Donovan. It took a week for the Cubs to regain their previous form.

“If this ever happens again -- hindsight is 20/20 -- I’d have to figure out some time where we could schedule a time,” she said.

While nothing can replicate being in practice everyday, working on plays and honing skills alongside teammates, many coaches preach staying conditioned during a break.

Wagner volleyball has tried to keep the competitiveness of the season in place. It split into five groups that can earn points for working out everyday. The Red Raiders send conditioning and ball control drills, and the group with the most points wins a prize.

Chamberlain has other gyms in town, so football players went there to workout during the week off.

“It was definitely difficult,” Chamberlain football coach Jeff Rademacher said. “A lot of contact with the kids trying to make sure they’re staying up to speed as far as making sure they’re running, or finding a place to go to the gym and staying in shape.”

Mount Vernon/Plankinton football has its own unique situation as a co-op. Plankinton athletes aren’t allowed to practice, so coach Brent Olson has hosted half practices focused on fundamentals. For his players at home, he’s encouraging them to do push-ups, sit-ups and watch film.


“We do basic fundamentals. We don’t want to do anything while our other kids are gone,” said Olson, who expects to play Miller/Highmore-Harrold on Oct. 16. “That wouldn’t be fair. You run some fundamental things, condition them, get in the weight room and try to keep them active.”

With players constantly in and out, Olson estimates he hasn’t had a full team practice in nearly three weeks. He, along with Wagner volleyball, expect to host a practice on Monday. Wagner’s first game back is Tuesday against Parkston.

How will those practices look?

“When they come back, do you just focus on your fundamentals and get your blocking schemes back down and pay attention to yourself and not focus on your opponent?” Olson said. “Which is really odd at this time of the year.”

Chamberlain volleyball went straight into a full practice, while its football team emphasized running to get back into football shape.

Olson expects a mixture of fundamentals and part of the scouting report, comparing it to fall camp with more recent film. He’s not worried about injuries, as time off near the end of the year could help heal some minor injuries, rather he is more focused on getting his team conditioned enough to play a full game.

For Wagner, it’s as much of a mental hurdle as a physical one. The Red Raiders have eight games and a tournament in the back-half of October. Even with all the at-home workouts and belief that her team is doing more than asked, coach Stacey Knebel knows it’s not the same as regular practices.

But after not playing since Sept. 22, Knebel believes her team is ready for the challenge.


“Everyday we’ve stepped on the court so far this year, we’re blessed to be here every single day,” she said. “When that got taken away from us, I think they’ll be even more blessed to be here.”

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