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It's been a very different summer so far for the Wilson Hall volleyball team. Most years, the team would be deep into scrimmages and camps, but the coronavirus pandemic has made that difficult this time around.
Head coach Rip Ripley knows all about how difficult the pandemic has been on athletes. Along with coaching volleyball, Ripley is the head track and field coach at Wilson Hall. He saw a group of seniors lose their final seasons, and he's trying to do what he can to help his volleyball team have the best offseason and season possible.
"It's tough. Spring was heartbreaking for all those kids, especially the seniors, but even the underclassmen who were looking forward to a spring season," said Ripley. "Obviously we're all still hoping that we're going to continue as normal coming into fall. Right now we're just following SCISA's (South Carolina Independent School Association) guidelines and trying to plan for the best. We're operating right now as if we'll have our tryouts on July 30, and we'll start our school year and season on time, is what we're hoping. "
Volleyballs were scarcely seen at Wilson Hall before this week, as the Lady Barons moved through the different stages of their return to action. Last week, the girls were able to use volleyballs for the first time, but they weren't allowed to share equipment. That meant they could basically only hit the ball against the wall with themselves. Senior Abby Beatson was thrilled when the Lady Barons finally had permission to pass with each other this week.
"It's so much better, it's like you're actually playing volleyball now," said Beatson. "You're not just at your house hitting the ball against the wall."
This week was a big step closer to normal practice routine for Wilson Hall, but it's still far from a typical practice. The Lady Barons aren't allowed to have a defense yet, which is the major rule for Phase 2 across every sport. That means no scrimmaging. On top of that, the Lady Barons split their team amongst their two courts to make sure they social distance as much as possible. Wilson Hall also had color-coordinated balls for each court to make sure they keep equipment separated. While summer workouts have been far from normal so far, the Lady Barons are just glad to be back in the gym together.
"It's been great because it's obviously our senior year, and we're so hopeful that we're going to be able to have a regular season like we have in the past," said senior Madison DesChamps. "It's been good to come in here and even do modified workouts and do what we can to get better.
"We're not able to full out scrimmage, we just were able to start sharing a volleyball this week. In the past, we use the summer to get better so much, and this year it's kind of taken a step back, but we're hopeful that we can still continue to get better."
While the Lady Barons were excited to return to practice, the possibility of a cancelled season still lingers.
"I know we all hope that we can play this year, and it's been hard not being able to scrimmage already," said senior Mary Claire Lee.
Camryn Bateman added, "I'm just really excited for the season and glad we get to do stuff over the summer. Last year's seniors, some of their seasons got cancelled, so I really hope ours doesn't."
Coming back to practice wasn't an easy decision for every player at Wilson Hall. Senior Hayley Champion is a Type 1 diabetic, so she knows that she's more vulnerable to the virus than her teammates. While she was hesitant to return, she knew she wanted to be there for her teammates and is thankful for how seriously Wilson Hall is treating this threat.
"As a Type 1 diabetic, I have been very hesitant to get back into the swing of things. I am very happy of the way that Wilson Hall is taking this and the orders they have in place. They have made me feel more comfortable and helped me be prepared for what is to come," said Champion. "I can't wait to get back to normal soon. We haven't been able to do much, but this week was the first week we were allowed to get back to touching a ball together. Volleyball isn't the same without all of the friends and relationships built over the summer and not being able to play together and kinda set us back, but we have plenty of returns and are ready to get back to normal."
Wilson Hall has a total of seven seniors, which has made this difficult summer a lot easier for Ripley.
"It's huge," said Ripley on the importance of his big senior class. "I'm really excited about this group of seniors to see what they do to take control. They're already doing it. Them taking that leadership role is important and hopefully it will help us when it gets time to starting practice, so losing some time over the summer won't hurt us quite as much as it may if we had a super young team."
The Lady Barons have followed the lead of that senior class so far. During practice, the girls all stressed to each other the importance of social distancing and following guidelines. Ripley has appreciated that accountability, because he knows what might happen if one of his players gets sick.
"We had a talk last week and I told them if we have an outbreak and something happens, they can shut us down for two weeks. If they shut us down for two weeks at this point in the game, that can hurt us a little bit and now we're getting behind people," said Ripley. "I think that was kind of a light bulb for some of them. Earlier in the summer people were going to the beach, going out to eat. They now realize that this is serious and we have to be doing everything we can to keep our distance so that we're not the ones getting sick."
Wilson Hall will have the week off this coming week, as it has a scheduled dead period. After that week ends, it will have to wait and see if there are any new guidelines. Ripley is hoping the Lady Barons will be able to host a team camp with other schools at the end of next month, but all of that depends on what SCISA says over the next few weeks.
"I'm very ready for July to get here. We've got a dead week next week, we don't have anything next week. That's kinda good; it gives them a break from the workouts," said Ripley. "I'm hoping when we get back July 6 to be able to do some more scrimmage stuff. We're hoping to have a team camp at the end of July, we're going to have some other schools come in, and we'll have a couple of college coaches. Hopefully by that point we'll be able to have it and be able to compete a little bit."
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