There will be a girls’ high school volleyball season in Illinois this year … albeit a briefer one with no state tournament. And a boys’ high school volleyball season, too. Maybe a state. Maybe not.
The IHSA announced Wednesday that Illinois girls high school volleyball will begin on March 8 with seven days of practice. The first contests can begin once a team has met that requirement, and the season will continue until April 24.
Originally, the IHSA set the start date for girls’ volleyball with practices on February 15 and the season running from March 1 through May 1. But the start date has been pushed back to accommodate boys’ and girls’ basketball, which begin immediately and end March 13.
“Although our season will be shorter and have no postseason play, I’m just thrilled we will have a season,” said Hersey coach Nancy Lill. “It will be so good to get back in the gym with our girls.”
Boys’ volleyball also has a new schedule, starting April 5 with seven days of practice and a season that will run through June 19. Initially, the season was scheduled to begin with practice beginning April 19 and the season ending June 26.
There will be an overlap of the boys’ and girls’ seasons, but at least there will be a boys’ season after last year’s was wiped out by the pandemic.
“I’m excited that high school volleyball still has a chance at having a season,” said Sandburg boys’ and girls’ coach David Vales. “The overlaps, the shorter seasons can all be managed even if further sacrifices need to be made.
“We’re not out of the woods, but I love that people are still fighting for these kids,” he added.
The overlapping seasons could actually create a rare opportunity for high schools.
“Maybe Friday night boys’ and girls’ varsity matches?” said Barrington girls coach Michelle Jakubowski.
As with anything during the pandemic, enthusiasm comes with caution.
“Safety remains at the forefront of my concerns while also wanting to have our athletes compete,” said Downers Grove North boys’ and girls’ coach Mark Wasik. “I am just happy to see that having a season for both the girls and boys is looking like it will be a reality, as different as it will look this year.”
The bottom line, however, is that traditional spring sports like boys volleyball will be back in business after gymnasium lights went dark last March.
“Ultimately, the (IHSA Board of Directors) adhered to its stated goals throughout the pandemic: providing an opportunity for every IHSA student-athlete to compete safely this year and maximizing opportunities for traditional IHSA spring sports after they lost their entire season a year ago,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson.
“The Board faced an impossible task with a litany of factors,” he added. “They were conscientious in considering every possibility, and I believe their decisions today are a positive step for the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of our students.
Fortunately, when making its announcement Wednesday, the IHSA did not rescind the caveat that girls and boys can participate in club and high school volleyball simultaneously.
Why is this important?
The IHSA girls volleyball season will overlap (slightly) with the 2021 USA Volleyball Girls 18s Junior National Championship, which is scheduled for April 23-25 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio.
With the Illinois high school season continuing until April 24, seniors or any underclassmen competing in the 18s age group who want to compete for their high schools while preparing for nationals with their club teams will be able to do so.
There is one negative to the IHSA’s revised schedule. There will be no state series in girls’ volleyball. No decision has been made about a state series for boys’ volleyball.
“The Board wants to do everything in their power to prevent spring sports from going two consecutive years with no postseason IHSA play,” said Anderson. “There are obviously no guarantees, as risk levels by sport and local region mitigation statuses will factor significantly.
“Postseason could mean being limited to a regional or sectional level of competition, but we have not ruled out the idea of playing a full state tournament in these traditional spring sports if possible,” he added.
“The overwhelming feedback we have heard from athletic directors and coaches was that returning to play in all sports should be the main goal.”
Achieving that main goal will require a lot of work for everyone involved, however.
“I’m very happy that the kids are getting to play, but there are a lot of tough decisions ahead for players, coaches, athletic directors and officials,” said veteran IHSA volleyball official Nancy Nester. “The end result is about the athletes and they are getting to play, although not in ideal situations.”