College volleyball season is about to start, and for the players of Columbia University it will be their first competitive matches in more than a year. Volleyball is a fall sport, and while some college programs were able to play a delayed season this past spring, the Ivy League cancelled all sports for the 2020-’21 school year.
Allison Keeley, head coach of Columbia’s women’s volleyball program, said some of the players trained with their club programs after returning home when the campus was closed in March 2020. Over the spring and summer about half of the players rented apartments or stayed with friends in New York City and came to train on campus.
“The players are excited [to return],” said Keeley. “The time off has energized us and made us very grateful for the opportunity, so we’re just excited to play.
“With all the new protocols, they’re curious as to how things are going to go,” she added. “Things like will there be fans is still in process. They have to be vaccinated. There are logistics, but they’re really, really excited.”
During the time away from campus, the coaching staff had regular Zoom meetings with players. At first, it was easing anxiety over the pandemic. Over time, alumni joined the Zoom sessions to encourage the student-athletes. The last few months, the coaches and players have focused on training.
An inspiration that took place this month was the U.S. women’s volleyball team winning its first-ever Olympic gold medal. Keeley watched the action and thought the Olympic team was fantastic.
“They are great role models for our team and for young athletes across the country,” Keeley said. “The players are technical, they work hard, they understand roles, they understand family, and they speak to all of that. … It’s a great thing for young athletes to see.”
Native New Yorker Lauren Maitland, an outside hitter, is entering her sophomore year at Columbia, but her first year of collegiate volleyball. She was one of the players who trained with the coaches during spring and summer. When the team plays at the West Point Tournament over Labor Day weekend, she will likely make her debut. Keeley anticipates Maitland will be a very solid player on the outside.
“[The players] were grateful for each other during the time of COVID,” said Keeley. “Even though they were apart, they still had a community.”