YARMOUTH — Even with masks covering their mouths, you could see the smiles in the eyes of the Yarmouth High volleyball players. The two-time Class B state champions were back on the court together – indoors, at the Harrison Middle School – practicing the game they love and intent on getting the most out of a season shortened and delayed six months by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m pretty excited we’ve got a season,” said senior co-captain Kaitlyn Bennett. “I was kind of thinking volleyball wouldn’t happen this season so it’s a nice surprise.”

Especially for seniors, having a season gives them the ability to bid farewell to a favorite high school activity on a positive note.

“I did play for a long time and I wanted to just have my last season,” said Avery Dube, Yarmouth’s other co-captain. “To see all these girls one more time, to play one more time, and to know that it’s our last time.”

Monday marked the first day for formal, indoor – stressing the word indoor – practices for Maine’s high school volleyball teams.

“I’m so excited. I’ve been jumping off the walls all day,” said Sarah Marckoon, South Portland’s first-year varsity coach.

Fifteen minutes before Yarmouth’s practice officially started, powerful 6-foot-3 hitter Maggie Murray, who will play next year at Babson College, already had a sweat going.

“Being back in the gym with the Yarmouth coaches is really special to me because they’re the ones who got me into volleyball,” Murray said. “Just to be back with the kids I’ve been playing with for four years, there’s something about the Yarmouth community.”

Volleyball teams can play a maximum of 10 matches between March 5-April 9, with a possible postseason among teams from the same geographic area or conference to end April 16.

Key COVID-19 rules and protocols include: no spectators, face masks being worn by all participants at all times, and arriving ready to play and staying out of locker rooms.

The normal indoor season was called off Sept. 1. At that time, Maine’s athletic, education and health leaders were being especially cautious about athletic participation impacting academics and deemed indoor volleyball too have an elevated risk of COVID-19 transmission.

“We got the last-minute boot and everyone was really upset by that,” Dube said. “But now almost everyone is back which is really exciting and there are even some new players who had a fall sport who are playing volleyball now. So that’s super exciting.”

Yarmouth chose not to participate in the makeshift outdoor season that was offered this fall, where most of Maine’s volleyball programs played on grass or, in a few cases, quickly constructed sand courts.

Yarmouth Coach Jim Senecal had a gut feeling Maine would not cancel high school basketball and that would open the door to a delayed indoor volleyball season.

“I remained optimistic that we would get to what we’re seeing today,” Senecal said. “And I am so happy it worked out that way.”

With the shift to this wedge season, volleyball now overlaps with basketball until March 12 and will likely be contesting spring sports for gym time starting March 22. That means gym space must be shared and players like Margaret McNeill will juggle multiple sports.

“If there’s a conflict I’ll have to go with basketball because I’m a designated captain for basketball,” said McNeill, adding making choices is something she knows she’ll have to do, “if I want to get two seasons – which I want because I want the closure for both sports.”

South Portland’s Marckoon said coaches will need to be flexible with multi-sport athletes, understanding volleyball might not come first and most of all, “communicate as best as possible to get done what we need to get done.”

NOTE: The Maine Principals’ Association has not officially set start dates for spring sports but, according to Executive Director Mike Burnham, is targeting traditional opening days: March 22 for baseball and softball throwing practices; March 29 for full team practices in all spring sports.

Burnham said Monday all spring sports committees have met and designed their recommendations for play. Those will be reviewed by the MPA Sports Medicine Committee, March 3, before being sent forward to the MPA Management Committee and then state health agencies.


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