Fall sports at UCI have made their return to pre-season training in preparation for their delayed season. Freshman student-athletes begin their collegiate careers by practicing with the proper health and safety protocols, which consequently have made it difficult for them to fully build team chemistry. One freshman who is feeling the adverse effects of being a new student-athlete during a pandemic is UCI Women’s Volleyball freshman Grace Colburn.
The Orange County native comes to Irvine with 11 years of volleyball experience to her name. Initially, Colburn had committed to the University of Rhode Island before changing her mind and signing with UCI. Colburn is one of four incoming freshmen to join an already young team led by UCI’s Women Volleyball Head Coach Ashlie Hain.
Although Colburn is happy to be an Anteater, she has found it somewhat difficult to create and maintain strong ties with her teammates. Despite connecting with her new teammates during the summer over Zoom, this new way of life has made it a challenge for Colburn. Due to the given circumstances, it’s not only difficult to establish strong bonds, but also to understand the overall dynamic of the team during practices.
“It’s definitely been hard especially as a new person and we have a lot of transfers and we already had a young team. The biggest thing is we’ve been ‘Zoom-ing’ a lot … that’s kind of all we can do to get to know each other,” Colburn said. “We’re just trying to do as much as we can in the safest way possible and just accept that it is what it is for now.”
In order to adhere to physical distancing guidelines, practices are conducted in pods. These pods consist of no more than 10 players and are based on location of residence. Colburn, who lives in the dorms, practices with the other three freshmen — Amanda Albertini, Marianna Bertolone and Carly Richter — every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
“We’re doing the whole six feet social distancing. Coaches aren’t touching the balls or touching anything. There are gloves and masks. We’re sanitizing everything in between each use,” Colburn said.
Although practicing in pods ensures the safety of both players and coaches, the division of the team poses a roadblock when it comes to building trust.
“We haven’t been able to play sixes or do any super game-like drills mainly because we don’t have the numbers and because you can’t be in too close of contact,” Colburn said.
While the team does what they can to ensure a safe practice environment, it is evident that this new way of playing is very different from what these athletes are used to.
“It’s definitely a lot slower than it would normally be. The biggest thing is that we can’t play. Like we can’t scrimmage against or with our own team which is normally what you’d spend a lot of time doing,” Colburn said.
Despite the distancing, coaches are doing what they can to create a sense of familiarity with practices by having the girls do drills that are similar to what they would normally do if COVID-19 wasn’t a factor.
“I definitely think it would have been different, but I think COVID-19 hitting actually is going to be helpful in the long run because I think it makes everyone kind of appreciate what they had when you play a sport for a while and [if] you play it a lot of the time you often get burnt out. I think having a little break made everyone fired up so they appreciated the opportunity to play,” Colburn said
While UCI Athletics navigates this “new normal” during this pandemic, Colburn and the UCI Women’s Volleyball team continue to train for their long awaited new season set to begin sometime in early 2021.
Gina Johnson is a Sports Intern for the 2020 Fall Quarter. She can be reached at email@example.com.