The 2020 season for college athletics will be unlike any other in recent times.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the NCAA to implement a litany of protocols and precautions. For the West Virginia volleyball and women’s soccer teams, two of only WVU teams playing this fall, a big change is how often these teams will actually play.
The Big 12 decided that both the volleyball and women’s soccer season will in in-conference only, already limiting the total number of games on the schedule. On top of that, the frequency of the games has also been altered.
In a typical season, WVU volleyball and women’s soccer would play two games almost every week, a weekday game and a weekend game. In 2020, the volleyball team will play a two-game series every weekend and women’s soccer will just play on Fridays.
Talking with the media Wednesday, West Virginia volleyball coach Reed Sunahara and women’s soccer coach Nikki Izzo-Brown both expressed the thought that these changes due to COVID could increase parity in the Big 12.
“I think there will be parity,” Sunahara said. “Just from the first weekend, Oklahoma played Texas, but everyone else except TCU, who didn’t play, is 1-1. Kansas and Baylor split and Baylor was a co-champ last year, they were in the final four.”
“Being a part of the NCAA, every state was dealing with [COVID] differently and every team was dealing with things differently,” Izzo-Brown said. “So I do think that would lead to some parity.”
As Sunahara said, the first weekend of Big 12 volleyball play was an eventful one. After the first weekend, six of the nine teams are 1-1, with Texas being the only team that is 2-0, having defeated Oklahoma in both of their matchups. TCU (0-0) has not played yet. WVU split its games against Texas Tech.
Sunahara said the new schedule made up of back-to-back game days will take a toll on teams this season.
“Anything can happen, it’s a tough conference,” Sunahara said. “Every night’s a battle but playing back-to-back…I think you’ve got to be prepared, not just from a physical standpoint, but a mental standpoint.”
On the flip-side, Izzo-Brown said she has found a lot of positives in only playing one game a week.
“What I absolutely love is the recovery opportunity we have,” Izzo-Brown said. “We all love to compete, but sometimes that Friday-Sunday or that Thursday-Sunday is a tough model. You do miss the games, as much as you want to make [practice] game-like, it’s never game-like enough.”
The Mountaineers have played three games in the first three weeks of the Big 12 soccer season, defeating Iowa State and Kansas State, but falling to Oklahoma State on Friday. Izzo-Brown said the extra time between matches has allowed her and her staff more opportunities to coach and develop players. As a team with only eight upperclassmen, Izzo-Brown said that time has been a major boon for her younger players.
No matter what the schedule is, or what precautions they have to take, however, Sunahara said the most important thing for his team to do is control what they can control.
“One of our mottos is ‘we’ve got to make one more play to help our team score one more point’. If we can do that, at least we’re going to be in the game and we’re going to have more opportunities,” Sunahara said. “If you compete hard then it trumps a lot of things. If we take care of the ball on our side, then at least we’re in control of our destiny.”
“It’s just a really strange year,” Izzo-Brown said.