NEW ALBANY - Ashley Connolly has seen a lot of things during her volleyball career as player, club coach and high school coach, but nothing can compare to what she recently experienced with the coronavirus pandemic.
Connolly not only saw her club team's season come to a sudden halt, but she is now saddled with a lot of health regulations and guidelines while conducting high school conditioning and practice.
"Our club season was abruptly stopped, very similar to baseball and softball for high schools, Connolly said. "We were actually on our way to a tournament and got the phone it was cancelled. We still had four tournaments left to play and I know my team was finally coming together.
"They had so much more to learn. I coached one of the 16’s teams and that age is where they grow the most. It’s almost like something clicks and they realize their potential. I hate we weren’t able to finish our season and see all that played out. As for high school we didn’t get to have our out of season training and I know that’s nothing compared to in season sports, but for me out of season training is just as important and we lost all of that."
Connolly attempted to keep her Lady Bulldogs of New Albany volleyball active during their down time with workouts they could do on their own.
"We sent them workouts that they could do on their own, most of them own their own ball and used that time to brush up on their ball control," she said.
Beginning in early June, New Albany volleyballers and other athletes were able to resume conditioning and workouts under the supervision of coaches, but the athletes had to work through a progression of modified conditioning in order to acclimate them.
"We were one of the lucky ones to be able to start June 1st thanks to our awesome school district allowing us to," Connolly said. "The first two weeks were strictly conditioning and our designated area was on the soccer practice field. We implemented a lot of exercises that I gathered from different coaches in the volleyball realm that used no contact and no equipment.
"We were happy to just be able to start being able to do anything. The past two weeks we were able to get in the gym. We have set guidelines put in place that we take very serious."
Connolly and the Lady Bulldogs have specific guidelines and precautions that they must adhere to in each practice and they are taking extra steps to keep everyone safe from the Covid-19.
"Before every practice, we have a set of questions that were put together by our school administration and nursing staff that we ask every athlete before entering," Connolly said. "We also do temperature checks for everyone who enters the building.
"We are blessed to have 60 volleyballs and three carts. We have them on a rotation and sanitize them every 20 minutes. We also have plenty of hand sanitizer that we use before and after practice and during water breaks. We also enforce social distancing as much as possible."
Last season the Lady Bulldogs made school history as they advanced to the 4A state championship match where they were defeated by perennial powerhouse Vancleave. The year 2020 offers some challenges as Connolly will be replacing several key players from that team.
"We lost four players from our starting line up last year and all four played a very specific role to our success," Connolly said. "This summer we have been working on who will fill those spots and we even moved some people around that will be more beneficial to the team as a whole. Every girl knows their role and value they bring to the team.
"The four players will be missed but now we have to move forward and work towards our ultimate goal of making it back to the state Championship. We won’t look like the same team people have been used to seeing in the past but the girls are putting in the work to be just as good if not better."
Three players that saw significant time on the floor for New Albany in 2019 that return are Masey Kate Adams, Vakeria Jett and Alexis Mirfield. Connolly will look to them to provide some stability to her vastly different lineup.
"Masey, Vakeria and Mirfield will return and continue theirs roles," said Connolly. "Hannah Hughes will step in as libero. I have full confidence in her ability to take over that defensive leadership role.
"As for the other positions we have a few players who can step up and take over. Nothing is set in stone at this moment. It’s just too early to determine who will do what."
Presently, no one knows when or if the 2020 high school volleyball season will be played, but Coach Connolly and the Lady Bulldogs will continue to work hard together towards the ultimate goal of again playing for a state championship and on improving their game.