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The Wilson Hall volleyball team has had a pretty good last two weeks.
First, the Lady Barons were recognized for their academic achievements, being selected as an AVCA/USMC Academic All-American Team last week. Then Wilson Hall was finally able to officially practice for the first time on Monday. That practice was highly anticipated.
"They're excited to get to play," said head coach Rip Ripley. "We've still got some safety protocols in place -- coaches wearing masks, the temperature checks, the hand washing. It's kind of the new normal. We've been doing it all summer, so they're accustomed to that.
"Anything we can do. Masks are optional. We're actually going to talk to them about them practicing in masks some, just to see it what it feels like, because who knows if down the road they'll ask us to do that. We're just trying to prepare for stuff."
The idea of practicing in masks didn't go over particularly well when Ripley made the proposition to his players, but he is just trying to stay ahead of the game. Ripley is a planner, so he wants his girls to be prepared if the South Carolina Independent School Association suddenly requires masks for games this fall.
"Not great," laughed Ripley about his players' response. "It's obviously not ideal, but I'm a planner, I try to think scenarios out. It's optional to wear a mask right now. If you feel like you need to, go ahead. I think we talked as a coaching staff about requiring it, at least in spurts in practice, just so they can get used to it.
"There's so many unknowns right now. That could be something down the road and I'd rather be a little bit prepared for it now versus September comes, and someone says we have to wear masks with everything we do or we can't play. I think the girls are understanding of the precautions and things because at the end of the day, they want to play volleyball."
While there are still some protocols in place, there were some steps toward normalcy for the Lady Barons this week. The biggest step is being able to fully scrimmage. Wilson Hall had about a week at the end of workouts where they were able to have a defense on the court, but the Lady Barons spent a good portion of practice on Monday scrimmaging, which was a welcome addition.
"We've got tryouts the first few days and I told them we're just going to play," said Ripley. "I just wanted them to get to play and they haven't gotten to do that a lot this summer, so that was really exciting. Every kid wants to scrimmage.
"I've seen them do stationary ball hits all summer, because that's all we could do. I've seen them do individual stuff all summer, I just need to see them play live and they love that."
The Lady Barons are finally hitting the court again after a year of really hitting the books. For the fifth year in a row, Wilson Hall was recognized by the American Volleyball Coaches Association for academic excellence. The Lady Barons were selected as an "Honor Roll" team, meaning that they were one of the top 70 teams in the country thanks to a stellar team grade point average of 4.658. Ripley is proud of how seriously his team takes the "student" in student-athlete.
"Being at a school like Wilson Hall where we are incredibly strong academically really helps, because they're not just pushed by me, they're pushed by everybody in the school," said Ripley. "A lot of times as coaches we say that academics are the priority. We say that, but this is a great recognition so we can show that. Wins and losses are easy to see in a game. It's hard to see those wins and losses in academics as a team.
"Our team had a 4.6 GPA last year, which is phenomenal. To be at that level of a GPA is impressive and it comes from taking AP classes and having success, taking honors classes and having success. Even our younger ones that aren't in honors classes yet, we're getting to the point where it's becoming the standard and expectation that we'll be eligible for this every year."
Members of that All-America Academic team include Sarah Cain, Camryn Bateman, Abbie Beatson, Hayley Champion, Gracyn Coker, Madison DesChamps, Mary Claire Lee, Andi Grae Wingate, Mary Jones, Annie Lauzon, Lucy Matthews, Campbell Bauman and Sarah Sonntag.
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