Last week, Resident Press took a look at the upcoming high school football season amid the current issues of school closures and an extended dead period enacted by the Arkansas Activities Association in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, we talk with Paris Lady Eagles head volleyball coach Jordan Devine to discuss the upcoming high school volleyball season and how it may look next fall.
Of course, volleyball is a sport that is played indoors with fans sitting in a smaller, more confined space. Due to the Lady Eagles success over the past several years, Paris home volleyball matches are well-attended; in some cases, the Lady Eagles volleyball attendance has out-drawn some schools’ high school basketball home games. So, there will be several challenges that Paris will have to look at to protect the players, coaches, and fans who attend Lady Eagles home volleyball matches. In my interview with Coach Devine, we discussed these issues and how she and the other coaches are preparing for the unusual season that lies ahead.
Coach Devine indicated that there is not much that can be done with regards to finalizing preseason preparation plans until more is known. “At this point of the year (May) we would be winding it down at the end of the school year, normally. So, we would just be starting open gyms after school a couple of days a week. And then, typically, we would end the school year on a Friday and that next Tuesday we would start our summer schedule for May-June. We haven’t been able to do any of that, so we have just tried to stay in constant communication with the girls, send them workouts each week to complete, and really, that’s about all we can do right now. “
I asked Coach Devine for her thoughts about a timeline of how far the Arkansas Activities Association’s dead period can be extended before the volleyball season is affected. Coach Devine responded by saying, “I haven’t talked to too many coaches in our area. I think we are all in the same boat waiting to hear from AAA for what their guidance is going to be on what next season is going to look like. There are a million different rumors going around on if we are going to have a season, and if we do, this is what it will look like…I can’t really say what is going to happen. I think we (coaches) are in the same boat day by day, and we really don’t know what is going to happen. We’re just kind of waiting to hear from AAA what they think the season is going to look like; if we have one, or, if it is going to be modified at all, or, if it will start on time. I don’t know if we know the answers to any of those questions.” With respect to the starting time for the season, I asked Coach Devine if she thought there is any consideration to starting the season earlier to ensure that the entire season and state playoffs are completed. Coach Devine said, “You know, I have not heard that rumor.” As a point of reference, it was reported in the media several days ago that the State of Oklahoma was considering an earlier start to the 2020-21 school year to provide some additional flex time in their school calendar to compensate for missed school days related to a possible recurrence of the caronavirus.
The all important question of how long can the dead period be extended before the season is endangered, Coach Devine indicated that she needed at least two weeks with her team for conditioning, practice, and some assurance that the risk of injury would be reduced. “Volleyball is a little different beast than football. It’s hot at the start of the year, but most gyms that we use are going to be air conditioned, or somewhat air conditioned. I am concerned with getting them acclimated to the heat, but, we’re going to need a couple of weeks to get the girls back in and in the shape they need to be in to play without risk of injury. They have been off now for months, so, I am hoping for at least a few weeks before it is game time. Realistically, I would think, at least August, to give us a few weeks before the season started, I think would be doable, but not optimal. I think at this point, everyone is just hoping to have a season.”
As with our interviews with the area football coaches, Coach Devine agreed that if the AAA lifted the dead period no later than when the traditional dead period would be lifted each summer, approximately July 6, that would be plenty of time to prepare for the season in a manner that would be similar to how the team would normally prepare each summer. “The product might not be the same as if we had been practicing all summer, but I think that is plenty of time to get us in shape and where we need to be to start the season. It would help us start the season on time.” Coach Devine has heard the rumor that the AAA’s dead period, due to expire May 30, would not be extended and activities would be allowed to resume June 1. That is just a rumor at this point. “With different things happening in June, I don’t know that it will be like full-scale, team practice, but again, who really knows?”
From the feedback Coach Devine is receiving from her players, she believes her players are responsibly doing their individual workouts as directed to prepare for the eventuality of practice resuming in the hopeful near future. Coach Devine has built a winning culture in the Paris program; a culture that is built on hard work and team focus on the goal of competing for and winning state championships. The players know that winning championships does not come easy, and they know themselves what has to be done to be ready to play in August. But Coach Devine made an additional point that I thought was a little humorous, but, perhaps her players may not think it is so funny. The Paris coach indicated to me that the players know how hard it is to compete for a title, and with that, comes a lot of hard work each day. And now, with conditioning being up to each player on the team, Coach Devine suggested that they also know how hard it will be on them if they are not in shape when they report for the season. She confidently stated that she expects her players to be ready, if not only for that reason. It will be hard enough if they are in shape; they do not want to report out of shape!
The Lady Eagles volleyball team will compete in a new 3A West conference in 2020 that has been expanded from eight to nine teams. Gone are the Mansfield Tigers who have dropped to Class 2A, and replacing them will be perennial state playoff team Green Forest. New to the 3A West this year will be last year’s Class 2A state champion, the Hackett Hornets. So for the Lady Eagles, the conference will certainly not be any easier than last year or in years past. The new 3A West conference will include: Booneville, Charleston, Elkins, Green Forest, Hackett, Lincoln, Paris, Waldron, and West Fork.
At the state level, Coach Devine thinks that the contenders for the Class 3A championship will again be comprised of the traditional powers in 3A volleyball. Defending 3A state champion Little Rock Episcopal will be joined by Paris, Fountain Lake, Hoxie, Harding Academy, and Piggott, among others, who are expected to be in contention in late October. And don’t forget the defending Class 2A champion Hackett Hornets. Coach Bridgett Freeman’s team will be ready to compete for a 3A title.
For the Paris Lady Eagles, the terrible memory of a tough defeat on their home court in the state quarterfinals to eventual state champion Episcopal is a memory no one on the team will soon forget. There should be plenty of motivation for the Lady Eagles to erase the bad memory of the 2019 state tournament.
But first thing first. The Hackett Hornetts, fresh off a Class 2A state title, and eager to prove their spot in Class 3A, should be a strong contender for the district and district tournament titles. The Green Forest Tigers, a road trip of more than two hours from Paris, will be a tough out, particularly on their home court. This year’s Paris team will be missing some key seniors, but the Lady Eagles will be a young and talented team that should be very competitive in the district race. As a sport, Arkansas high school volleyball continues to improve across the state, and the 3A West will again be loaded with great teams. Teams such as Waldron, who improved steadily throughout last season to finish third and advance to the state playoff, and win their first round game in the state tournament, should again be a tough opponent in this year’s district race.
All of this boils down to a Paris team that is preparing for what I have dubbed as the “unknown 2020 season.” My level of optimism is improving with respect to the outlook for sports in 2020. My latest feeling is that our new societal standards of social distancing, the use of hand sanitizers, and just a greater self-awareness of our surroundings and proximity to each other, surfaces, and our overall maintenance of health, may reduce the incidence and rate of traditional Type A and Type B flu next year. For every month that we delay the potential recurrence of the caronavirus in the winter months, then hopefully our country will be closer to the development and the availability of a vaccine that will protect us all and allow our children to play the sport they love.
But, one thing is for sure that I believe I can say on all our behalves; we are tired of the entire caronavirus mess, and we are ready to talk about the start of the upcoming volleyball and football seasons.
I believe that moment is not far away. Hang in there Eagles fans!