Amy Willis fought back the tears when she talked about the remainder of the 2020 Kodiak High volleyball season on Wednesday, a day after the Alaska Schools Activities Association canceled fall state championship events.
“Overall, my heart is sad because my kids are so good — and not just great volleyball players, but they are just such good humans,” Willis said. “You want to be able to reward that hard work and determination.”
The cancellation of the state tournament doesn’t mean an end to Kodiak’s volleyball season. ASAA said seasons could continue, but teams may only play within their regions or their geographic regions and must complete competitions by Nov. 21.
A Region III Championship in Palmer could still be in play. However, as hopeful as Willis is, she is also realistic. The Kodiak school district has not allowed fall sports teams to travel, and, with the rising COVID-19 cases popping up around the state, the odds of traveling are shrinking by the day.
The Mat-Su Borough School District has only allowed in-district competition this fall, except for last weekend’s state cross country championship in Anchorage.
“If our superintendent and administration said we have a shot, I would do whatever I can to do up a mitigation plan to make that possible for the kids,” the school’s activities director Debbie Rohrer said. “But, I think with the rising cases throughout the state, I don’t even think Mat-Su would allow us to come there even if we said we could.”
Willis said the volleyball team would continue to practice and scrimmage a group of community ladies for at least the next two Fridays, while the coaching staff creates an event to create closure for the team.
Kodiak was able to play the community team in front of limited spectators twice this season. No spectators were allowed at last Friday’s match, which Kodiak won, marking the first time the Bears beat the community gals this season.
“I was really proud of how the girls played,” Willis said. “Just like you do for any competitor, you figure out what we need to adjust and what we need to do better and work on those areas for improvement.”
As much fun as it has been playing the talented community team, Willis wishes her girls could face other teenagers. The coach said this has been “an amazing character-building” season, which has given the girls the tools to handle future hurdles.
“We don’t get everything that we want, and that is a really hard life lesson — as an older person, I am still struggling with,” Willis said.
ASAA’s decision to cancel fall state championship events and delay the start of winter sports came after meeting with state health officials, which included Alaska’s chief medical officer Dr. Anne Zink, on Tuesday morning.
Rohrer listened to that meeting via Zoom.
“She seemed to have very high positive hopes of us having spring sports this year,” Rohrer said. “But, she definitely wasn’t very positive in regards to the remainder of the fall sports. In my personal opinion, I think that was probably a huge reason why the board of directors decided what they did.”
For the past 21 days, Alaska has reached triple-digit COVID-19 cases, with record highs recorded over the weekend.
ASAA’s decision also impacted the Kodiak volleyball team. Football, cross country and tennis are already finished for 2020.
Although travel looks bleak for the swim team, Rohrer said region coaches are talking about doing a virtual region meet.
In the meantime, Kodiak coach Maggie Rocheleau hopes to organize a few time trials for her swimmers.
“We are hoping that the region will pull together and put on a virtual or some version of a regions where we have the opportunity to see how we stack up against the other athletes that we compete against,” Rocheleau said.
Winter and spring activities are postponed until ASAA adopts a revised calendar. Wrestling was slated to start Nov. 2, while basketball was already pushed back to Jan. 4.
As activities director, Rohrer would like to make the end of the season special for her athletes.
“How can we wrap up the season for the kids and make it the best positive experience that we can for them under the circumstances of the cards that we have been dealt,” she said. “I do want the kids to be able to end on a high note, although, today, I’m sure that is not the feeling.”