CORSICA — In a typical year, a trip to the South Dakota Class B State Volleyball Tournament at a school like Corsica-Stickney would be celebrated with a pep rally and a big, collective school sendoff.

That’s not happening this week for the Jaguars. And the students on the team are OK with that.

In fact, they say they’re thankful for the amount of volleyball they’ve played this season and they exhibited that gratitude Tuesday evening, hosting a community food drive ahead of Thanksgiving to collect items for residents of the two towns who are in need. The food drive was held outside the school’s commons area, with fans and supporters encouraged to honk their car horns and wave to the Jaguars’ team members during the event.

That’s making the best of a tough situation with COVID-19, said the school’s high school principal and activities director Brittney Eide.

“With the pandemic, our kids, there’s always something missing. Part of that small-town tradition with going to state tournaments is all of the fun stuff that goes with it. Unfortunately, we just don’t know how to do that in the right way right now,” Eide said. “They’re losing some of that experience and they’re still willing to give back. That’s a huge lesson and that makes them outstanding young ladies.”

Newsletter signup for email alerts

The items collected on Tuesday will go to the Aurora County Food Pantry and the Douglas County Food Pantry, which serve the communities of Stickney and Corsica, respectively.

Once the team got the word that a traditional pep rally probably wasn’t going to be feasible, they latched on to the concept of trying to help the community and still getting to interact with their fans in person, said senior Morgan DeLange.

“We don’t want to put anyone at risk because we know that at the state tournament, if there’s any cases or close contact, we’re getting sent home,” DeLange said. “Our team doesn’t want that to happen and our whole team is on board.”

If there’s a school that understands how abruptly COVID-19 can force things to change, it’s Corsica-Stickney. The Jaguars were in the midst of an undefeated season and two games away from a Class B state championship in girls basketball in March when the South Dakota High School Activities Association shut the tournament down because of the onset of COVID-19 in the state.

Of the veteran players on the team, about a half-dozen of them are also members of the Jaguars’ basketball team from 2019-20.

The constant threat of the season being shut down at any moment has been both daunting and motivating, senior Paige Wright said.

“It’s been in the back of our head, ‘When’s going to be our last game? When could we be done?’ It’s been kind of hard,” she said. “The masks, we get where it’s coming from, but sometimes it sucks. We know that it’s there to protect other people and we’re on board, but it’s hard to know the season could be done at any point.”

Corsica-Stickney High School in Corsica. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)
Corsica-Stickney High School in Corsica. (Marcus Traxler / Republic)

From that standpoint, making the state tournament isn’t just about collecting a 19-3 record this season and being one of the top-eight teams in their class. It includes being one of the healthiest teams, too.

Eide said the school was one of the few in the area that didn’t have matches canceled due to COVID-19. The district hasn’t had to go to a distance-learning format for classes, either.

“There’s a lot you’re constantly keeping track of,” Eide said. “In high school, these girls want to be together and you want to be with your teammates in the huddle and you don’t get as much of that with what we’re dealing with. The fact that we could manage that and keep it together on the court is a huge accomplishment this season.”

For home matches, the fanbase in attendance was almost exclusively parents and some extended family, even though the school didn’t put restrictions on who could attend. Eide said numerous fans were watching on the school’s streaming platform from home.

“It’s just very typical of our two communities,” Eide said. “They’ve always backed our kids. They’ve shown up and this year, they’ve shown up by staying at home.”

Corsica-Stickney plays top-seeded Northwestern in the opening match at noon Thursday at the Huron Arena. And even without all of the usual small-school trimmings for a trip to the state tournament, it’s starting the big week is building in excitement, thanks in part to giving back.

“We can feel that excitement building and that’s a special thing for all of us,” said senior Taryn Rexwinkel.