Watching The Colony volleyball team practice in person brought a huge smile to the face of first-year head coach Rachel Buckley.
Buckley was hired as the successor to longtime coach Terri Harrod in April, but up until last week, the former Hebron assistant and North Carolina State standout had only chatted with her Lady Cougars once a week over a virtual meeting.
The global coronavirus pandemic had kept schools closed and gymnasiums locked.
To finally hear the sound of volleyballs was music to the ears of Buckley.
“To be able to put bodies to faces is awesome,” she said. “Kids are walking in and, I’m like, ‘That's who they are.’ Over a computer screen, they were silent. To see them in person, it’s the coolest thing."
Last week marked the start of voluntary summer workouts for public schools across the state and many coaches hadn’t seen their players in person for almost three months. However, hugs or high-fives were not allowed. COVID-19 interfered with those plans.
The UIL has provided numerous social distancing guidelines that have to be enforced.
Players spread in a circle at least 6 feet apart for stretching and during the one-hour sessions allowed each day for skill work, cones were spaced that same distance to keep everyone spread apart. No more than 10 players were allowed per coach for workouts that were inside a gym and 15 per coach for outdoor practices. Hand sanitizer was sprayed on the balls before and after practice.
Those parameters will change June 22 after the UIL recently approved to loosen some of those restrictions.
The Lady Cougar volleyball team went online 15 minutes before the start of practice outside of Tommy Thomas Gymnasium to fill out a form related to COVID-19 symptoms and then had to get their temperature taken by a school employee.
The Colony used the first day of practice as a walkthrough to get used to the new safety measures, and the prior week, a video was shown to parents of all the new procedures that have been put in place.
“We marked off (social distancing) spots beforehand,” Buckley said. “Trying to get them to stay in one spot is the trick.”
The plan for the first week of practice was to get as many individual touches with the volleyball as possible before breaking off into varsity and sub-varsity groups next week for more detailed instruction.
One drill that Buckley had her Lady Cougars work on was to hit the ball into designated zones on the other side of the court.
Ensuring that The Colony would have enough coaches to adhere to UIL guidelines, Buckley enlisted the services of recent Lady Cougar graduate and Stephen F. Austin freshman Ashley Procious.
“She’s got good knowledge for volleyball,” Buckley said of Procious. “Coach Emma Petolick is a great coach, too.”
One drawback of the COVID-19 restrictions is that Buckley might not be able to watch her Lady Cougars participate in live 6-on-6 drills until as late as Aug. 3 – the date for team tryouts.
"I would love to see them play,” she said. “It’s totally a different thing to see kids do skill drills instead of live play. That's killing me because I'm not able to see them live. And I probably won't be able to see them play live until tryouts and our team camps."