The Nebraska Wesleyan volleyball team has long awaited a chance to reunite on the court. With the coronavirus pandemic, the regular fall volleyball season was cancelled with the potentiality of a season this spring. Now, at long last, the volleyball team is finally getting a shot to take their places along the net . For the team, being able to play at all is rewarding and offers recognition to their hard work throughout their off-season training and perseverance.
This year’s volleyball team is younger. Many players are freshmen which has been an adjustment to the program. Head Coach Rayna Cain has nine years of experience at NWU and is “excited to work with the new players” and “these girls have a very high energy and are extremely competitive every single day…which is exciting.” Cain also mentions that she is excited for next season as well to see how the players will grow. Kelsie Stovall, a senior libero from Nebraska City, Nebr., is the only senior on the team this year and mentions that she has learned so much from the younger ladies. Stovall says that “the younger girls have taught [her] so many things” and “one big thing is that they taught [her] just to enjoy it” since this is her last her. The younger girls have reminded Stovall of the love she has for the program. Overall, Stovall is thankful for everything the younger ladies have done for her. When asked what Stovall has taught the younger girls, she mentions that her “biggest contribution is leading by example and giving 110% on the court and in the classroom,” and she strives to help them be better in all aspects of life. Her dedication to helping the younger girls be better every day will definitely carry through them as they continue their volleyball career at Wesleyan.
With the pandemic, the practices look different, but the coaching style has stayed the same. Coach Cain indicates that “style has not changed, and it is more of how the structure is in practices.” The team has to socially distance in practice and wear masks which can sometimes be difficult with facial expressions. Skeptics may say that it is hard to connect with teammates without being allowed to be in close proximately, but the volleyball players see no division and continue to bond on their road trips for games.
Regardless of their delayed season, the volleyball team continued to practice and stay in the gym. However, this time was less consistent than during a regular practice schedule. Trisha Hayes, a first-year outside hitter from Superior, Nebr., describes the first semester as odd because practices were two days a week so it “felt like a plateau the whole semester” since their season was up in the air. However, Hayes continues that this semester, despite only having eight games, “has been nice to be in the gym every day and be around the people that you are playing with every day as opposed to just a couple of days a week.” Even with the season in the spring, Hayes mentions that the “freshmen don’t know what they are missing” since they have not had a college experience prior. The setback also showed a difference in team bonding as well. Coach Cain says that this year’s biggest change is not starting off from the beginning since there are many opportunities for bonding in the fall with travel. Coach Cain says that the bonding is “kicking off with road trips” this spring season. Team bonding is a huge component to an athletic program. Creating a sense of “our team” versus “our family” allows players to become more than just teammates. Coach Cain emphasizes the sisterhood of the volleyball players and believing “more in ‘we’ than ‘I’ and support.”
Establishing sisterhood is significant because those are the memories that the players will remember from their days at NWU through the building of lifelong friends. Stovall emphasizes that her “favorite part of this program is the girls” because “the volleyball team has always been very close-knit.” As Stovall graduates this May and continues her education at Nebraska Methodist College for occupational therapy, she will continue to cherish the connections she has made through the Prairie Wolves volleyball team.
The Nebraska Wesleyan volleyball team has successfully transitioned into their spring season just like many other fall athletes. Coach Cain “commend[s] these student athletes because no one in the history has had to deal with all the stuff that they are dealing with and they are taking it as true champions.” The pandemic has not allowed activities to be easy to work with, but it is especially difficult for students to play the sport they love. The volleyball team is well on their way to a successful season, and the development of this young team will bring new life to the NWU Athletics program in the years to come.