The large number of girls returning to two state runner-up volleyball teams in Goodyear — Estrella Foothills and Millennium — did not think their path back to the finals would begin anything like this.
Like high school teams in every sport across the state, the Wolves and Tigers are making the best of it.
Arizona Interscholastic Association return to play guidelines limit the number of players that can be in an area at one time, limit who can touch what, and require social distancing and regular cleaning.
In phase one of the return to play, teams focus on conditioning and try to adapt to the challenges unique to their sport under these parameters. Like practicing volleyball drills with each individual player only allowed to touch the ball they brought with them.
“We only do it for an hour at a time because if it goes longer it gets boring with kids only able to touch one ball,” Millennium girls volleyball coach Julie Vastine said.
It goes counter to any regular drills teams would run during what is normally the open gym portion of the offseason. However, Vastine was quick to add, players and coaches are grateful to be back in any capacity.
And the Tigers are fortunate for their early return. They and Agua Fria district mates could return June 2.
Estrella Foothills is in the Buckeye Union High School District, which did not allow workouts to resume until this week. Wolves coach Jennifer Gonzales set her team’s first offseason workout for June 16.
“We just got the go-ahead yesterday. And kids have to sign up for a time slot if they want to work out,” Gonzales said June 10.
Like other sports, volleyball teams are using rotation systems and stations since participation is limited. Both districts allow only 10 players on one full court at any given time.
Estrella Foothills and Millennium both have two courts. For the 4A Wolves, the math should be fairly simple based on participation history.
“If you usually have 40 girls in for open gym you need to go into two shifts,” Gonzales said. “In between each shift there’s going to be cleaning and sanitizing.”
Volleyball is sharing the courts with other sports. At Estrella Foothills, that will mean a 6:30 a.m. start, While at Millennium, workouts are spread out from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Vastine had to do a more complicated calculus for her workouts. Millennium is a 5A school with almost exactly 1,000 more students than Estrella Foothills.
In recent year, Vastine said more than 70 players have come into open gym in recent years. This summer, she had to cap the summer program at 60 players and has a waiting list of Millennium students and incoming freshmen who are considering enrolling there.
“We’ll start in the gym at 11 each Tuesday and Thursday with one group conditioning and have another group in the weight room at 11:30 for half an hour,” Vastine said. “It’s a juggling act and I can’t be there for all five sessions over the course of three hours.”
The coach said players are in general happy to get back to any sense of normal volleyball, if a bit confused.
“Many of them are in club and in club they don’t practice social distancing,” Vastine said.
And as Gonzales was quick to say, these offseason programs are more truly voluntary than “voluntary” workouts — partly because of those clubs.
“With this virus we want to emphasizing it’s voluntary. The regular club season has kind of collapsed but some clubs are getting back to gyms. Usually a lot of girls do double duty with clubs,” Gonzales said.