Livonia Churchill will see if it has an opportunity to regroup after losing in the state quarterfinal in 2019. (Photo: Colin Gay | Hometownlife.com)
Heading into her second year as head coach for the Livonia Churchill volleyball team, Claire Urban seemed to already have a lot on her plate ahead of the 2020 season.
After winning 15-of-16 possible sets to earn a regional title before being swept by Ann Arbor Skyline in the state quarterfinal, Churchill is forced to replace seven seniors, trying to find that same magic again with a new group.
Normally, Urban would be beginning work with her high school team at the end of June, preparing for camps and leading open gyms. Instead, with the coronavirus pandemic shutting down the club volleyball season for many on the Chargers roster, Churchill will have to find a way to develop that same chemistry and communication, despite not knowing the status of the upcoming fall season.
According to the Michigan High School Athletic Association, volleyball is listed as a “moderate risk” sport, and may be permitted to begin when the third step of the reopening process has started, which is initiated by each individual school district.
The MHSAA announced Tuesday it has been considering a shift in season for different sports, moving fall sports to the spring and spring sports to the fall. A spokesman said that no matter what, the goal is for three full seasons to be played.
Urban said she has been following the lead of Churchill athletic director Marc Hage, and there is no real answer at this point to the status of their sport.
“At Churchill, we’re a family and it’s just like any other family: we’re going to get through it all, all the differences, together,” Urban said. “I think it will make them stronger in the end and in the upcoming season. We are trying to work through it together as a group.”
Rolling with the punches
Senior setter Maddie Johnson will be a key contributor for Churchill volleyball next season. (Photo: Courtesy of Maddie Johnson)
Maddie Johnson had an idea of what she wanted the offseason to look like.
As an incoming senior, she wanted to take the spring and summer to train, physically and mentally, for the upcoming year with a new-look roster.
She thought starting early would help her better the team in the long run. It started during the club season, playing with two other Churchill seniors, developing a rapport on the court and beginning the process of trust and communication that is vital to long-term success.
With the coronavirus disrupting that schedule, Johnson’s plans shifted, but she still worked.
“I really have been doing a lot of hit workouts at home, just trying to better myself so I can eventually help better the team,” Johnson said.
Thinking about this upcoming season, every volleyball team in the KLAA and the entire state of Michigan is in the same boat: forced to change training regimens for a season that may be changed at any time.
“We are almost going into the season blind, but not really at the same time,” senior attacker Olivia Clark said. “We have an idea of what the season is going to look like, the people, but not much to prepare for it.”
In planning for the upcoming season, Urban is not looking too far ahead. She does not want to put more stress and anxiousness on the minds of her players.
Instead, the Churchill head coach is planning for the best-case scenario: scheduling tryouts in August, with the first game either later that month or in early September.
“As a coach, I’m just trying my best to roll with the punches because I don’t know very much,” Urban said. “None of us do.”
Preparing for the unknown
As the future remains unclear for the sport in the fall, Urban and the Churchill staff is doing their best to continue to get their players prepared for what could be
In the limited practices the Chargers have had, players have been on outdoor sand courts, giving them an opportunity to gain strength in their legs prior to the season starting, as well as communication work based on how difficult movement is compared to the courts they normally play on.
But Urban said the break has found its advantages. She said many of her players were healing from injuries and fatigue, and that she expects the team to come out in the fall healthy, stronger and anxious.
“They are just ready to go,” Urban said. “They miss seeing each other, they miss the game. They don’t care if it’s in sand or grass, whatever. They just want to touch a ball and they want to get to playing.”
As practices start to ramp up, junior setter Jordan Wosniak realizes the amount of work that will need to be done to develop the team to where it was at the start of next season.
She said it is especially important in her role as a setter, along with Johnson.
“Leading up to when we can get back into the gym, I believe that we all need to come together, as a team, and be open for encouraging words and also open for critiques,” Wosniak said. “Nobody is perfect. Setters go off of flaws… You want the hitter to tell you what you are doing wrong to make them more successful.”
Much of the progress will have to do with the success of Clark and Johnson, along with Wosniak.
But to Urban, Emma Maladecki, a sophomore libero who played with her sister Jessica this past season, will be key.
“She’s been in her sister’s shadow for a little bit, but Jess has now graduated, and it’s her time to shine, and she will,” Urban said.
When asked what the team will look like if there is a season, Maladecki said, like many of her teammates, that Churchill will be young and small, yet extremely talented.
Coming off a season in which the Chargers were one game away from the final four, the overall message of the team heading into the season seems to be that the only thing stopping Churchill from returning to that spot would be COVID-19.
“I definitely think we are going to bring fire,” Maladecki said. “We are one of the shorter teams, so teams are going to look down on us. They are going to be like, ‘Oh, you’re the underdogs.’ But since we are the underdogs, we can come up. We can rise up, and it will motivate us.”
Contact reporter Colin Gay at firstname.lastname@example.org or 248-330-6710. Follow him on Twitter @ColinGay17. Send game results and stats to Liv-Sports@hometownlife.com.