“It feels like there’s a renewed sense of excitement,” said Kristin Belzung, head coach of Stony Brook University women’s volleyball, which kicks off its season on Friday. “Being able to see smiles and do team activities again where we get to know each other has been really nice.”

As did a number of fall sports, the volleyball team was able to play a conference season this past spring, but results were not up to the team’s high standards. Typically, volleyball is a fall sport and spring is a time to work on new skills. Last academic year, most fall sports competed in the spring.

“It was difficult in terms of the timing,” said Belzung. “Usually, the spring is our opportunity to really develop, do some things in the weight room and become better athletes, do some individual skills, technical stuff. We obviously didn’t get that opportunity.

“It’s almost like we used the spring to springboard us into a more prepared fall, but it’s also hard,” she added. “The timing of it is tight.”

Most of the volleyball student-athletes returned to campus in mid-July. Official practice began Aug. 9. Since then, there has been team bonding—a big change from last year’s team meetings being virtual. There is still regular testing for COVID-19.

“The motivation to compete and go back to winning again isn’t as hard as the last year and a half has been,” said Belzung. “The girls are excited and ready to hit the ground running. We’re hungry for a championship.

“That part has not been difficult to motivate them through,” she added. “The year and a half prior to that with COVID, social injustice and trying to figure out who we were outside of volleyball individually and as a group, all that was a lot harder as a coach and had a lot of really difficult and important conversations through that. Hopefully, we’ve all grown as people.”

It was exciting and motivating to see the U.S. women’s Olympic volleyball team win its first-ever Olympic gold medal. Belzung said the Olympic success was testament to the popularity of volleyball in the U.S.

All of last year’s team has returned, including libero Kiani Kerstetter, who graduated last spring, but has started a master’s program so she can take advantage of the additional year of eligibility granted to all Division I student-athletes. Also, look for sophomore setter Torri Henry, sophomore middle blocker Abby Campbell and redshirt junior middle blocker Enitan Omolewa.