COVID-19 has impacted every business and organization across the world in multiple ways, and the Lady Vols volleyball team is no different.
“Well, there are several things,” head coach Eve Rackham said. “Obviously, from an aesthetic standpoint, we are going to be in masks, which presents challenges. Also, our schedule is different. We are going to play four opponents twice. It will be twice at home and then twice on the road. We will play them back-to-back, which will be different in not seeing everybody in the conference. I think the team is honestly just excited to play somebody else. It has been a challenge not knowing what was going on but to now have a schedule, it has us excited to be able to plan for that.”
The first major sports reaction towards the coronavirus was from the NBA on March 11. On that day, NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, stated that the 2019-20 season would be suspended, “until further notice.”
On March 12, the NCAA made their first big move which involved canceling the remaining winter and spring championships, which included the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.
The safety protocols implemented by the NCAA and the universities prevented the Lady Vols from meeting during the offseason until June.
“We had our last practice in the middle of March, then the players went home,” Rackham said. Typically, you have Feb., March, April, three solid months of training. You spend a lot of the offseason with individuals and on individual development because the season is so team focused and you are preparing for matches. We didn’t get a chance to do that.
“We were fortunate that our players were able to come back in June. Tennessee did an unbelievable job in handling it from an administrative standpoint. From a fitness standpoint, I think we came in as good as we could be, but not having the volleyball and the on court training was a challenge.”
Coach Rackham wasn’t the only one who understood the work that went into getting fall sports up and running. Her players understand the effort that has gone into these decisions.
“I think at first, there was a little bit of uncertainty,” Lily Felts said. “Not so much due to the health concern but because we all look forward to our season so much and the fact that it could be moved to the Spring or canceled was kind of scary. Now we are confident because of the university doing a great job of making sure we are staying safe. At first there was some uncertainty, but we are all feeling confident now because we have been able to be at the gym for the past few months.”
Currently, Tennessee will play eight games this fall against four SEC opponents. They open the season against Kentucky two times in Lexington. The Lady Vols will then be home for four straight games against Georgia and then South Carolina. To finish the season, they will play two matches at Auburn. Each series will be a back-to-back.
Rackham is currently entering her third season as the Lady Vols head coach. She holds an overall record of 41-19 and an SEC record of 24-11. Last Season, Tennessee went 15-13 overall with a 9-9 conference record.
“To be honest, it has only kind of hit me in the last week or so that we are gonna be playing matches because there has been so much back and forth, even in August,” Rackham said. “The last month and a half has just been like, we are gonna play, we aren’t gonna play, we are gonna play in the spring, we are gonna play both spring and fall, we are gonna play conference only, it has just been so much. Really digesting it and thinking about the fact that we are going to compete, I haven't gotten there. Like most people living through COVID-19, we have been taking it day to day and trying to make good decisions that day.”
The season opening pitch for Tennessee will be on Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. in Lexington, Kentucky.