Volleyball's Path to State
The girls’ varsity volleyball team was headed to the State Championship for the first time in 19 years, but then COVID-19 threw a wrench in that plan. After months of wearing masks while playing and practicing while unsure of when or if they would get the opportunity to play games, the team built incredible optimism and resilience to get them to the momentous point of the State Tournament. However, due to the realities of COVID-19, the team had to withdraw from the competition. Despite this unfortunate event, both coaches Natalie Heurkins and Elena Guylay ’19 agreed that players have managed to pull together an historic season.
Natalie reflected on some of the difficulties, both related and unrelated to the pandemic, that affected the entire team, saying that “playing volleyball in a mask is hard. It took us over a month to finally get somewhat used to the new normal of playing in a mask.” The SVCS team took a consistent stance in requiring that their opposing teams wear masks during home games. As Natalie said, this ask proved to be unpopular with most competitors, as the other teams had not been practicing or playing games with masks. When they would play away games, the other teams would typically not wear masks. Natalie noted that this could have been a disadvantage to her team, as it “gave the other teams an endurance advantage.”
Players also experienced disappointment in the canceled games throughout the season. Natalie noted that “games were canceled for weeks. As a coach, I didn't know what to expect when we were finally able to get back onto the court for a game.” Similarly, Elena said that the hardest part of the season, “other than having our players wear masks, was watching game after game get cancelled and not knowing when we were playing next and if we should prepare for future games. This unknown was very frustrating for the team and players had to find the motivation within to show up to practice and work hard.”
Both coaches noted that the district tournament was a turning point in the season. After losing their first game, the team was forced to reevaluate their approach. Under the leadership of the coaches and senior players, the athletes ultimately turned it around and won the remaining games—games against some very tough competition. As Natalie summed up, “Thankfully, everyone was in it to give it their all.”
The coaches specifically attributed the team’s drive and recovery after such disappointments to the seniors on the team. Elena described how the team’s three seniors impacted the group, saying, “All three have been major driving presences on the court. We could not have done it without them. I was impressed with our team’s ability to continue pushing and their drive to get better. We didn’t necessarily have anything that we were working towards [during cancelled games]. But everyone still came in and worked hard.”
Back in the beginning of the season, senior captain Noelle LaFleur had high hopes for the team. She said, “The entire team put in a lot of effort in pre-season so that we could excel right out of the gate.” The addition of three new players also added “fresh experience and ideas” to the team, which would go on to serve them well when they needed to take a new perspective while dealing with the challenges of this season.
After months of overcoming disappointments in the face of COVID-19, Natalie said that she feels like the team has become a family. “I am so very proud of each and every player on the team[...] The players have learned that they can't be selfish, we are a team.” While the team’s progress was ultimately cut short due to COVID-19, each player learned invaluable skills, continuing to support one other through each and every hurdle.
Cutthroat Volleyball History
1984: Won the Idaho State Championship
2001: Went to State and made it to the Elite 8
2020: Earned a berth at State