The Superior Spartans volleyball team had high hopes for a fall season, until those hopes came crashing down like a thunderous spike as the season was delayed until spring.
Now, about five months later, the longest-anticipated season in program history is finally upon us as the Spartans open the season Thursday, March 4, at home against Sparta.
Superior coach Brenda Pluntz was asked if it’s felt like forever.
“Oh my, God, it’s been well over a year since we’ve had a season for high school volleyball,” she said. “We were allowed to do some open gyms, but that was all.”
Not the same.
With the alternate spring season, coaches were allowed to have more than a dozen contact days, but again, not the same. This will no doubt feel different — volleyball in the spring — with next to no crowds, but it will still be sanctioned, competitive high school volleyball that will count in the standings.
“It’s certainly been a while since we’ve played, but we’ve all been working hard in the offseason, trying to stay in shape and now, it’s finally here,” said junior captain Lexie Lohman. “Originally I thought that we’d play in the fall, and I was hoping that we would, but now we’ve got a good opportunity in front of us. We’re playing some good teams, and we’re going to get some great experience.”
Superior has 13 games on the schedule. The Spartans are playing home and away contests as part of a “pod” that includes Sparta, Holmen, Eau Claire North and Memorial, La Crosse Logan and Central. They picked up the bakers’ dozen by adding an additional game against Washburn, with a Wisconsin-sanctioned postseason planned the week of April 11.
In the ever-changing world of COVID-19, with states and conferences and school districts changing plans on the fly, putting the schedule together was a bit of scramble for first-year Superior athletic director Ella Olson. What the Spartans are left with is a new look.
“Other than Eau Claire, we’ve never played these teams before,” Pluntz said. “At one time we were kind of left out a bit, but Ella got on the phone and made some connections with these teams.”
The Spartans only have four seniors, but they have a strong junior class led by Lohman, Destiny Hering and Makayla McMeekin. Lohman, who played in the middle as a freshman before moving back to the outside, goes into her third year as a starter. She led the Spartans in kills as they went 19-15 in 2019.
Lohman said there’s quite a bit of turnover, with a new libero in senior Hannah Drake and a new setter in junior Emily Barker.
“It does feel like it’s been forever,” Lohman said. “It was hard not being in the gym like normal, but I’m thankful for the opportunity that we do have, even if it was a bit of a wait.”
Lohman also plays soccer, but COVID-19 put the kibosh to that last spring as the Spartans went right into quarantine. She still plans on playing soccer, which now will start in April with no overlap with the regular-season volleyball schedule. After waiting more than a year for volleyball, waiting a little longer for soccer should be no sweat.
“I’m excited,” Lohman said.
After two days of tryouts, Superior’s first official practice wasn’t until Wednesday, Feb. 23, meaning the Spartans only have eight days before their first game on March 4.
“Barely 10 days for a preseason,” Pluntz said. “We’ve had to hit the ground running.”