This past Sunday was supposed to be the day that the Cal State Fullerton volleyball team reported for their first official team meeting of the new year.
But, just like every other athletic program across the country, COVID-19 has changed the course of another season, this time for fall sports. As conferences try to figure out how and when athletes can compete, the Big West Conference board of directors announced on July 29 that fall sports would not be played for the rest of the calendar year.
The postponement impacted the tennis, soccer, cross country and volleyball teams at Cal State Fullerton.
“I thought of my seniors. That was my first initial reaction, to make sure they’re OK” said volleyball head coach Ashley Preston.
Despite a losing record in 2019, the CSUF volleyball team made tremendous strides since the senior class of 2020 were underclassmen. In 2017, the Titans went 5-24, but last season the team went 12-15, the most wins the team has achieved in Preston’s five seasons at the helm.
“Just what we built from last year, and for them now, it’ll look different, because we don’t know what the future holds,” Preston said.
The same could be said for the women’s soccer team, which won the Big West title last year and went unbeaten in 16-straight games before losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to USC. Even with the regular season set to begin in 9 days, head coach Demian Brown said he and his team sensed that the season would not begin on time.
“It wasn’t much of a surprise for us,” Brown said. “We felt it was coming where so many conferences across the country have already made the similar decision.”
The decision was made by the board, which is made up of the conference’s 11 university presidents, including CSUF president Fram Virjee.
Back in June, the board said they would issue a statement on the plan for fall sports no later than July 20, but on that day, they said that they were still assessing the situation and pushed the announcement date to Aug. 1. The delay brought displeasure to people on social media, given that conferences like the Ivy League, Patriot League and the Atlantic-10 had already postponed their fall sports while other conferences were delaying the start of theirs.
Nine days later, the Big West ultimately made its decision on fall sports, citing the serious health and safety challenges COVID-19 presents to each campus.
“I am proud and pleased that we, as both an individual campus and a collective conference, continue to navigate this pandemic by the light of our preeminent North Star — the health and safety of our faculty, staff, students and fans,” Virjee said. “I want to express our communal deep disappointment and sympathy for our student-athletes.”
Brown said that the university administration and athletic director Jim Donovan have been great at communicating information about the program, and in return, he was able to keep the communication with his team through Zoom just as good, given that he has not seen them since March 11.
“Because of how our communication has been going, I really do think that women took things as well as they could,” Brown said. “You have some women that train hard and they’ve been working out hard, and so that can be frustrating. But at the same time, we talk a lot about controlling controllables and just taking really good care of care of ourselves.”
The volleyball team has communicated just as frequently, and Preston said she has seen this as a chance for her and the coaching staff to build young women. It’s the team becoming a tight knit unit in both volleyball and in life that Preston said she believes will translate to the whenever the team can return to the court, as she has already filled out a journal of things to relay to her team during games.
“I’m constantly taking notes through this time too, like, ‘Oh, I want my players to remember this when we get back on the court,’ and we had them also watching video and tracking themselves, and we wrote down the notes that they saw so that we can reiterate that in spring,” Preston said. “The things we’re doing right now, it’ll just translate because it’ll be the same things that they hear when we’re able to get back on the court.”
When Preston and her team can return to the court still remains in question, as the board stated that at some point in the future they may play fall sports in the spring, depending on the fluidity of COVID-19. Preston said she is optimistic that they will have a season in the spring, but she, along with Brown, recognize that there are a lot of moving parts in the decision making and they will not know what will happen for a while.
The women’s soccer team traditionally plays a spring schedule every year, and Brown said if they could get a couple more matches added to that it would help prepare for a 2021 season.
“I would love to be a part of any type of conversation that could help that along, but I understand that there’s a lot of moving parts. It wouldn’t be a simple fix, there’d be a lot of work that went into that,” Brown said.
Despite the uncertainty of a season and not practicing now, Preston said she tries to focus on what is going on right now, because it is all that you can control.
“If you’re thinking about the past, you’re depressed. If you’re always thinking about the future, you’re anxious. Focus on the present, because that’s all you have right now,” Preston said. “This is the perfect indication in August of practicing what I preach.”