The Cougar tennis, volleyball and golf teams are each preparing for another season after months of pandemic-related uncertainty kept them from playing. While this season may be different from usual, coaches and student-athletes alike are ready to make the most of it.
The Cougar Volleyball team has been practicing since Jan. 21. Their season will officially begin on Feb. 7 with a game against Belmont University, who they will play again the next day — Cougar Volleyball Head Coach Kendall Paulus said they usually play two different opponents, but this was changed to keep exposure to a minimum in light of the pandemic.
The Ohio Valley Conference’s elimination of midweek and non-conference games has led to an extended pre-season for the team — according to Paulus, while this puts more pressure on the team’s first game, it also gives them an unexpected advantage.
“Those non-conference games, in a normal schedule, give you time to work through your lineup, maybe give some freshman some game experience. We don’t really have that luxury,” Paulus said. “[But this] should be, actually, the most structured season we’ve ever had, not having conference, not having midweeks … each week will hopefully look the same.”
Cougar Volleyball will play every Sunday and Monday from Feb. 7 until the OVC tournament in the first week of April. According to Paulus, they must play a minimum of eight games to be eligible for the tournament, in which the top four conference teams compete against each other. While rapidly-changing schedules make this an uncertainty for Cougar Volleyball, Paulus said they hope to make it this season.
“Our goal always is to … make the tournament, but we haven’t won the OVC yet, and so that’s always the forefront,” Paulus said. “Of course, that’s a long-term goal, but we’re really going to just focus on day-to-day getting better, and if we have enough people to play on a weekend, we hope to win.”
Senior outside hitter Rachel McDonald said her advice for her fellow Cougars is to make the most of their time and trust in their teammates.
“Honestly, my biggest advice is to appreciate the time on the court that you get,” McDonald said. “I think this has really opened my eyes that not just volleyball, but in general, not everything’s a given … you’re going to have days you don’t even want to keep going, but at the end of the day, your people around you [are] going to get you there.”
The Cougar Tennis team officially started practices Jan. 18, and will play their first game of the season on Jan. 31 when they travel to Dayton, Ohio. They will play 10 non-conference games before their first conference game in March against Jacksonville State, ending conference play toward the end of April.
Redshirt junior Callaghan Adams, a member of the Cougar Tennis team, said the season has undergone minor changes from usual.
“We typically have two seasons — a fall season, which is more individually based, and we didn’t have that this year, [and] our conference season, [which] is still the same,” Adams said. “Since we’re typically a spring sport, they didn’t cut any of our pre-conference matches. We didn’t have a fall season competition-wise, we just practiced.”
Adams said this season, most of the team is eager to compete in games they haven’t before.
“The pretty big core group of the team is pretty young … a lot of us girls haven’t been able to compete within the conference, so I think that they’re excited to get that opportunity … I think it’s going to be, definitely, a competitive season,” Adams said.
While the pandemic has led to much uncertainty for student-athletes, Adams said the team should remain optimistic.
“Just give it your all every day, and just hope we get to keep playing as long as we can,” Adams said. “There’s definitely going to be curveballs thrown at us this season with testing protocol and everything, but hopefully we can all stay healthy and just kind of enjoy competing together.”
SIUE Golf began practice on the first day of classes, Jan. 19. They will begin travelling in two weeks, with their first competition taking place Feb. 6 for the Pat Hicks Southern Utah Invitational in St. George, Utah.
According to Head Coach Derrick Brown, the team will travel the entire semester up to their final Ohio Valley Conference games from April 25-27, unless they advance to regionals, in which case these dates will go into May. According to Brown, while their fall season has been eliminated, their spring semester will continue as usual.
“Golf normally plays in the fall and the spring, and so our season is going to be 50 percent of what it normally is, because of COVID and [not being] able to compete in the fall, but our spring semester looks like a normal spring semester would with the same amount of tournaments as years past,” Brown said.
Brown said his expectations for the golf team will depend on the performance of both returning and incoming players.
“By the end of March, when we’ve got a couple tournaments under our belt, I hope to have a good idea of where we are,” Brown said. “Our expectations will probably change once I see what our returners are capable of doing, and I’m real interested to know what our newcomers will do for us.”
Change is inevitable this season, so players should learn to adapt quickly, Brown said.
“There’s going to be changes throughout the spring season … the people who are comfortable with change are probably going to succeed the most,” Brown said. “Just be ready for change, and when you get the opportunity, compete as hard as you can.”