BRIDGEPORT — Just one week into the 2020 season, it’s been a whirlwind for the Celina volleyball team.
The Lady Bobcats dropped to 3-2 on the young campaign Tuesday, steadily acclimating a roster that includes just one senior to the varsity limelight. The squad flashed its potential after blitzing Bridgeport for a 25-12 set one win before the Sissies settled down behind a stingy block and the hard-hitting tandem of Zoe Hall and Makenna Gantt to claim the next three sets.
Freshman Ryan McCoy caught fire early for Celina with six kills in the team’s first-set win, while junior Lexi Manning finished the match with seven kills, junior Megan Hodges added six and junior Madison Kelley chipped in four.
“We have a very different team this year. We graduated nine seniors and have five freshmen and a sophomore,” said Ginger Murray, Celina head coach. “Every game is a learning experience and these upperclassmen and returners are so good with the little ones. They’re learning from them and are patient. They’re playing well together for as young as we are.”
While Murray molds her young roster, Celina is adjusting to a season different from any other in the coach’s tenure — navigating the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With that comes a myriad of new guidelines and protocols to safeguard student-athletes, coaches and spectators — although Murray has noticed early on that criteria varies from place to place.
“Everywhere we go, it’s something different. My girls had to move their chairs apart on the bench despite riding next to each other on the bus, and there’s different things with ticket sales,” Murray said. “Every school has a different spin and idea of what might work.”
On Tuesday, fans entering the Bridgeport gymnasium were required to wear masks and every other row in the stands was marked off with signs that read “seating not available.” On the court, the Lady Bobcats all donned neck gaiters that they wore occasionally when not playing.
Both team went through routine warm-ups but anything that invited physical contact was discouraged. That included eliminating the traditional pregame exchange of high fives between the two teams, with Celina and Bridgeport simply walking to the 10-foot line on each side of the court and waving at each other.
The two teams also did away with switching sides after each set.
Although the Lady Bobcats have been dealt changes at away venues, they’ve taken their own initiatives to ensure their home matches are conducted in a safe and hygienic manner.
“We’re spraying down our balls after the games and after practice and doing all we can to stay on top of it and hope everyone stays healthy,” Murray said. “We’re also encouraging everyone to stay within their families and within themselves.”
That’s helped Celina avoid any early illnesses to begin the season, although Murray admitted concerns over the pandemic loom — particularly when her players, already a close group, are around others.
“These girls are with each other all the time. Whether they stay the night in groups or go to the store or wherever, they’re always with each other because they’re a happy-knit family,” Murray said. “My fear is whenever they go to school and are around people that they haven’t been around and not knowing where they’ve been. There’s a spiderweb to it all and what’s scary is the unknown.”
The volleyball matches themselves have offered a bit more familiarity for the Lady Bobcats. Despite any guidelines put in place around the court, Tuesday's action on the hardwood channeled a familiar intensity as both sides roared in celebration of any hard-earned points or rallies won.
Prior to the four-set loss to Bridgeport, Celina had picked up sweeps of Blue Ridge and Lindsay during their a home dual on Saturday. The squad split outings with Ponder (3-1) and Decatur (3-0) in the team’s opener on the road on Aug. 11.
The start of district play is still a ways off for the Lady Bobcats, with a full slate of two-match weeks on the docket in lieu of the UIL scrapping any tournaments for the season — all leading up to the conference opener Sept. 11 at Melissa.