Athletes struggle with pandemic rules


Gabby DePersio plays volleyball for Western Illinois University

By Aliyah DePersio, Staff Writer

The white ball soars over the net. A player dives for it, but misses. The ref blows their whistle, and the crowd roars. Players slap the hands of their fellow teammates and huddle together. This is normally what it is like at a volleyball game — tons of energy and excitement, the crowd and players feed off one another. However, recently this hasn’t been the case. Masked players move about the court unsure of how the game is supposed to go now. The once full bleachers have become a ghost town. The only thing that can be heard is the sound of a lone whistle.

The Coronavirus has impacted many things, one of them being sports. College athletes had to deal with many changes due to implications of the virus —  the season being moved around, losing fans in the stands, and even learning how to play while wearing masks. Gabriella “Gabby” DePersio of McHenry is an athlete at Western Illinois University where she plays as a libero for their volleyball team, the Leathernecks. DePersio and her teammates had a hard time adjusting to the switch in rules as the colleges tried to comply with mandates.

“Everything was different from previous seasons by having a different schedule such as having our season in the spring, Covid testing a couple times a week, wearing masks at practice, and not being able to practice as a whole team,” said Kaitlyn Morgan, a right-side hitter for the team.

Normally a volleyball season is held in the fall, but due to the pandemic the 2020 season was pushed to spring of 2021. This was in hopes that some of the regulations would be lessened. Morgan mentioned not being able to practice as a team, and DePersio said they were split into pods. The girls were divided and practiced only with their pod, never as a full team. This was only one of the ways team bonding was affected. To avoid getting sick, the girls aren’t allowed to have team dinners and must always be socially distanced from one another. This creates a disconnect between the team.

“Playing volleyball has always been one of my main focuses and goals in life; however, playing with all of these extra precautions has made volleyball feel like a job or a chore,” said Peyton Bowman, who plays middle on the team. The extra stress of following guidelines in order to play has been hard on the girls.

Masks were a new requirement for the girls. Not only must they be socially distanced, but they must also wear masks to help prevent the spread of the virus. “Playing in a mask makes it harder to catch your breath especially after being in a long rally or drill,” said Ashley Poland, a defensive specialist on the team. Having to mask up was not ideal for the active players who found the barrier to be rather restricting.

“The masks made it a lot harder to communicate and they constantly made you feel out of shape,” said Aubrey Putman, an outside hitter. Putman brings up a great point with the mask limiting the communication amongst the players. The team is already disconnected from being socially distanced, and now they have troubles communicating on the court.

“I think the masks and the lack of team bonding really created a disconnect with the team, which makes it harder to win,” said DePersio.

Not only was the timing of their season pushed back, but traveling to out of state games was affected too. For games farther away the team tended to fly to those states. However, due to the virus, flying was not possible. “We still aren’t allowed to travel on a plane to far games, such as from Illinois to Colorado, which means I end up missing more school than I would have otherwise,” said Poland.

DePersio noted that they were once away from school for ten days, which means a fair amount of class time was missed. Classes in general are already hard for student athletes to balance with their sport.

A big part of playing sports is having an audience in the bleachers– the crowds cheering after every play, creating a buzz for the girls to feed off of. “Having no fans really made it hard to get excited and into games and the overall atmosphere was not as fun,” said Brittany Wulf, an outside hitter. They now hear each squeak of their shoes, and the sounds of the ball being hit ricocheted off the empty bleachers.

“Our home games were not the same because only two family members per player were allowed to watch,” said Erika Moore, a defensive specialist. DePersio’s mom, Michelle DePersio, has attended every one of her daughter’s games before the pandemic. Due to the pandemic Michelle wasn’t able to watch her daughter play in person but did her best to tune into every game to show her support.

“My mom is my number one fan,” said DePersio, she mentioned that her mother’s support motivates her while playing.

“Volleyball is all about the energy and the momentum of the game that you get from being loud and having a big crowd, and Covid completely took that away from a lot of players,” said Erin Rosdahl, a middle hitter. Many of the other players echoed similar sentiments. The crowds and the fans play a big part in team motivation. Rosdahl also described the experience as “playing in a bubble.” Thankfully for their fall season restrictions have lessened up enough to allow more family members watch them play.

Overall, the Coronavirus has caused a loss in morale and a disconnect for college athletes. The new regulations have added extra stress to a team already dealing with above average stress. Being a college athlete already made being a normal student hard, but the shifts due to the virus has added extra pressure in that regard as well. Even though the Leathernecks are feeling a little discouraged that hasn’t stopped them from winning their last couple of games. If you want to see these unstoppable players in action you can look up the schedule for the rest of their 2021 season at