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C-USA moves volleyball, soccer seasons to the spring

Photo by Maria Lysaker

By Ben Baker-Katz     8/25/20 7:24pm

When Rice officially canceled the remainder of its spring sports seasons on March 12 of this year, all eyes turned to the fall. As the COVID-19 situation evolved in Houston, the question shifted from how we would finish the spring season to whether we would be able to play at all in the fall. Five months later, we finally have an answer: Conference USA announced on Friday that all fall sports, with the exception of football, have been postponed until the spring, meaning that there will be no conference championships this season. 

The postponement impacts the conference championships of Rice volleyball, soccer and cross country. While volleyball and soccer are the only sports that compete in conference-based schedules in the fall, sports like golf and cross country, who compete in tournaments and invitationals against non-conference opponents throughout the fall, do not yet know how active their fall season will be. 

Head volleyball coach Genny Volpe said that the uncertainty of the last couple months has been hard for the team.

“This is an unprecedented time,” Volpe said. “We have always had a consistency of when we play our offseason, have our off time and when we play our competitive season. So this is for sure a very challenging moment.”

Volleyball is coming off of one of their most successful seasons in recent years. They finished the year ranked No. 24 nationally, with a 27-4 record. They made it to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament, getting the better of the University of Oklahoma before falling to Texas A&M University in the next round. 

Volpe said that the unexpected time off was difficult for the close-knit team. 

“The challenges have been more so a disruption of our normal schedules, training and just getting the chance to be together,” Volpe said. “We are a very close team, and that separation has been hard for our players.”

Currently, the team can do workouts together but can't fully practice. They meet and do skill work in small groups, while masked and socially distanced. Volpe said the team misses competing, but they’re trying to keep a positive mindset.

“I have had some days where I am sad that we are not in a ‘normal’ preseason about to 

compete like usual,” Volpe said. “But I look at what is happening this fall and think about how we can use this time to become a stronger team.”

The soccer team is in a similar situation. After a 9-5-3 regular season, the Owls fell in the semifinals of the C-USA tournament to the University of North Texas. Head coach Brian Lee touched on the difficulties of trying to plan a season in a pandemic, especially for the student-athletes themselves.

“[The hardest part is] the uncertainty for student-athletes,” Lee said. “Should they opt out? Should they travel back for fall? Are we going to play fall games? These are tough decisions for families to make and we are all just guessing at where a COVID season heads.”

With their season now pushed to the spring, Lee indicated that there is potential for “developmental, non conference games” in the fall. 

Lee also praised the administration’s handling of bringing students and sports back to campus.

“The athletic administration and campus leadership have been great,” Lee said. “The various leadership teams have been transparent, open to input and I think the model at Rice gives us the best chance to make it through a COVID fall.”

Volpe also discussed the specific precautions being taken by the athletic department and applauded the entire sports medicine staff.

“Our facilities team is outstanding,” Volpe said. “[They] work around the clock to keep our work spaces safe and clean.  The COVID precautions are very well thought out and current.”

Now that soccer and volleyball are pushed to the spring, all eyes turn to football and how C-USA will choose to proceed with the season. 

 [8/27/20 12:55 p.m.] This article has been updated to reflect the nature of the golf and cross country seasons as well as fact that cross country has also had their conference championships cancelled.

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