College sports teams often function as families. But without varsity competition and with limited practices, getting close with a team looked different than usual for Cornell volleyball over the past two semesters, as COVID-19 restrictions constrained team activities.
While rising sophomore middle blocker and right-side hitter Sydney Moore entered under these circumstances, she quickly adjusted to her first year at Cornell and her new team.
Although the Red only began practices at the end of October, Moore said she found positives in the late start to the season.
“In a weird way, it was a blessing, because I was able to make a lot of friends outside of my team and with the other athletes as well as with other students,” Moore said. “I’ve absolutely loved my freshman year and I’ve gotten involved in a lot of things.”
The team’s practices consist of watching film, working on individual skills, scrimmages and running through plays. But these practices also allow the players to forge bonds with each other and instill trust.
“[In practices], we also get to know each other through little things, like in between points when people can share their personality,” Moore said. “And we play music during our practices, so it’s really fun to see what music everyone likes to listen to.”
Beyond practices, the team has made an effort to see each other off the court, grabbing food together and eating on the slope or bonding through group dinners.
Team captain and rising senior outside hitter Madison Baptiste said that when the year started, the small moments like catching a meal together and studying as a group were main ways freshmen bonded with the team.
“Work ethic and giving all the effort you can all the time is a big thing on our team,” Baptiste said. “It’s been a team effort and I think that everyone has taken it upon themselves that if the freshmen need help with anything, they’re on it and they’re going to help with scheduling or practice or anything in between.”
Basptiste said she believes that their new reality has made the team appreciative of the time they have in the gym together.
“Everyone’s just ready to go, because we don’t know when that can get taken away from us at the last second,” Baptiste said.
Head coach Trudy Vande Berg noted the losses of a year without varsity competition.
“It’s our passion, and it’s what we love, so not being able to do that is tough because [COVID-19] has taken a whole chunk of their life away,” she said. “We have definitely kept perspective though and have tried not to feel sorry for ourselves … but it is a huge absence, so it hasn’t been easy.”
But Vande Berg said her team has remained optimistic and moves with the flow, which has alleviated the burden on coaches.
While adjusting to coaching during a pandemic year takes creativity, Vande Berg said the relationships the team made before the virus limited their practice and competition time has helped the squad better navigate these challenges.
“The culture on our team is that we are a family … It’s not perfect all the time, but at the end of the day, we respect each other and we’re in it together and I think this situation was the ultimate test,” Vande Berg said. “How are we going to stay with our eyes on the prize with our goals on the court with all this stuff going on that we have no control over?”
Although it has been a tough year, Vande Berg said she’s immensely appreciative of the talented group at her helm, which embraced the challenge and connected as a team.
“[Volleyball] is their passion,” Vande Berg said. “It’s incredible. We have kids who are going to be neurosurgeons, doctors and engineers someday … I’m very proud of them and I’m very lucky to coach such an incredible, adaptable group of girls.”