COVID-19 is changing everything about every aspect of your life. Before you leave your house, before you see anyone, before you go about any ordinary task like simply going to school, you need to stop and think. Do I have my mask? When was the last time I washed my hands? Am I a threat to anyone? Is anyone a threat to me?
More than most, the recreation industry has been affected this year. Clubs across Ontario have shut down for the 2021 season. Banking on next season resembling something closer to a normal season, some clubs are deciding to wait it out and a lot of last years OVA athletes are left waiting this season out. We have done and will continue to do everything we can to provide volleyball for you.
This seasons Eagles 18U teams are special. 18U Green is one of EVP’s longest serving teams. Many of their players have been playing for the Eagles since 13U. 18U Scarrow was EVP’s most successful boys team in club history during their 17U season. Having your season limited to just practices makes the 2021 season is tough for all OVA teams. Having it be your 18U season, your last shot in the OVA, is just heartbreaking.
The issues you are facing this season range from the small and manageable, to the large and unprecedented. When asking 18U Greens Ella Sakai about this, she told me the two biggest challenges she has had are mask wearing and the distance required in a sport that brings you so close with your teammates. “The masks make it difficult to breathe and they get sweaty very fast. It was difficult to wear a mask in the beginning, but I have gotten mostly used to it now. The distance, on the other hand, was very strange. It’s something I don’t think I could ever get used to. It feels very strange being so far away from my girls.”
Another huge problem is varsity recruiting. With two of EVP’s most successful and loyal teams in their 18U season, it has become next to impossible to display their skill to different varsity programs for next season. Of the 11 players on 18U Scarrow, four of them are underage and five of the seven 18U players are pursuing varsity programs. Schools are not able to conduct in person recruiting, and there are no tournaments or scrimmages to put highlight videos together.
With the newest set of COVID restrictions, the maximum capacity indoors is 10 people in Halton, including coaches. With that, having to keep two of 18U Scarrow’s players out of practice everyday takes away from your time with your teammates and time to develop. Scrimmages as a form of team sports have been disallowed by the provincial government, meaning any form of gameplay is gone from your practice plans.
We can only hope for the OVA to find a way, despite it not being possible to run a full season, to host regional 18U tournaments this season. Any type of gameplay that you can get will be so important. Whether it is scrimmages against local teams that the OVA sanctions, or smaller, three or four team tournaments that the OVA can try to run. Anything would be better than this. Nine player practices. No scrimmaging allowed. Mandatory masks. No high-fives.
There is a bright spot to all of this though. As difficult and unideal as this season will be, it will also be somewhat of an escape for you. While the outside world has shut down so much of what we are used to in an ordinary day, volleyball is one thing you can look forward to. The energy in the gyms during an 18U practice, whether it be 18U Scarrow or 18U Green, is unmatched. We can tell how close you all are every single time we step foot in one of your gyms.
I have coached the boys for two years now. Every day I look forward to going in and working with them because I know no matter what, they are going to make volleyball fun. That is all I could ever want out of a team as a coach; a chance to have fun playing volleyball. When I talk to the 18U boys that is what they care about. As much as they want tournaments, as much as they want a chance to develop and get better, what matters most is that they get to come out two times a week and play volleyball.
There is hope.
There are vaccines that will be ready soon. As helpful as that will be for all our OVA athletes, it is too little too late for you. Your 17U provincials were taken from you at the very beginning of this pandemic, and its last act will be to take your 18U provincials away from you as well. As a group that lives and breathes volleyball, EVP’s coaching staff is heartbroken for you, but we know this is not where volleyball stops for you. Some of you will play varsity. Those who do not will learn quickly that volleyball is a lifelong sport. For now, this is a significant loss but who knows, maybe someday we will see some of you around EVP’s facilities in coaches shirts.
This is just the start of your life in volleyball, not the end.