COVID-19 has changed the way everyone is currently living and how things are being done, and that includes athletics as well.
In order for Iowa State volleyball to have a season, there were protocols put in place and student-athletes had to stay healthy and not contract the virus. Fans were also not allowed at matches, something that has changed since the start of the season.
Now, a little over halfway into the season, student-athletes say they are getting used to this new kind of normal.
Eleanor Holthaus, junior right-side hitter, said at first, practicing in the masks made it harder for her to catch her breath, but now that they have been playing for a couple months and are more in shape, it's a lot better.
Junior outside hitter Brooke Andersen echoed that statement.
"I think that it started off way more of a change for us; I think at first, we were like, 'Oh, gosh, I can't even breathe,'" Andersen said. "Now, it's kind of weird to not play with it … I think it's gotten a lot better, and it's more weird to play without one than with one. I think we've all kind of learned to control our breathing, and if we need a mask break, we can take one."
When the team goes to away matches, there are travel protocols for them to follow so they can stay healthy and lower their risk of catching COVID-19.
Before the Cyclones' first away doubleheader — another change to the season — Head Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch wasn't sure what to expect in terms of protocols and how everything would work.
After a couple away doubleheaders, Johnson-Lynch said the travel guidelines include the same theme as it does at home — trying to stay away from having a lot of people in a small room; that's the number one priority.
"That means when we eat, we spread it out, we find big spaces, eat outdoors; when we meet, we try to find big rooms to meet in to watch film so we're not close together," Johnson-Lynch said. "We always have our masks on. We don't really meet in the locker rooms anymore … when we go to the arena, we just go to the gym."
Johnson-Lynch said so far, it has gone really well and has been fun and enjoyable being able to spend time together, even though they are spread apart. She credits Jessica Klein, the director of volleyball operations, and the trainers for making sure they adhere to the protocols but are still having fun.
Even though Iowa State now allows fans at Hilton Coliseum, there is a limit on how many people are allowed, and fans may still be wary of going to an enclosed stadium during this time.
Holthaus said compared to last year, the atmosphere is different with not as many fans and they aren't switching sides, but overall, it just feels normal again.
Andersen also said fans are a big thing, but masks make the matches different from last year in more ways than one.
"It's just weird because you look at the bench and everyone's got masks on, people are running in and forget to take their masks off, and it's just a lot different cause you can't even really hear the coaches when they're trying to say something cause you can't read their lips or anything, so that communication part is big," Andersen said. "… Being able to just all be on the same page is a lot harder, not really on the court but more with our coaches, so we just are continuing to be sure we all are on the same page with that."
Fans tend to bring a lot of energy to matches and can help bring the excitement players need to get the final points in a comeback victory or a close match.
Hilton Magic is something that is always welcomed by the team, and before fans were allowed back inside, Holthaus said not having fans was one of the hardest things to overcome this season.
"I think it's definitely been a challenge to not have fans, especially in Hilton; the fan base and the atmosphere here is so awesome," Holthaus said. "We tend to rely on that energy and the excitement and the cheer that they bring, so it's definitely been difficult and different."
This season, the Big 12 made the schedule without any nonconference games and having all doubleheaders as well so as to ensure less travel and therefore less risk for the teams.
The doubleheaders are something each team in the conference has had to get used to, but Johnson-Lynch thinks having no nonconference games could have a big impact on how the Big 12 all shakes out in the end.
"It's a little hard to know," Johnson-Lynch said. "I think injuries have been probably more of an issue than anything, but for sure, there have been players that have been in quarantine that weren't either available or they were just getting out of quarantine, and I'm not talking so much my team but other teams, that they just weren't really ready to play or playing at the level they are capable of. … It could end up that a lot of your record is dependent on what time of the year that you play them … because we are playing them once each round, you're getting the same team twice, whether that's at their best or less so."
Andersen and Holthaus also said COVID-19 and the schedule style this year will affect the conference and records because now, every team has to figure out what works for them in conference as they go along instead of in preseason, when they would normally be doing that.
"We've been trying to figure out [what works best] as we're going … we've just been having to adjust the team, but it's the same for everybody," Andersen said. "… We give it our best and we go to win, and if not, then we did our best. I think it's just really important that we know our game plan and we give it all we got, and at the end of the day, if we did that, then that's all that matters."