North Texas soccer and volleyball got the news on Friday, Aug. 21, that Conference USA decided to postpone both sports’ seasons after beginning practices for two weeks.
The NCAA throughout the month of August worked to push the postseason college soccer tournament to the spring. Mean Green soccer head coach John Hedlund played the process by ear and knew a decision was going to be made soon for a possible deferred season.
“We were waiting to see what they’d do to the NCAA tournament and once they moved that to the spring you saw most conferences and [C-USA] get on board to move it over,” Hedlund said.
On the volleyball side, Mean Green volleyball head coach Andrew Palileo prepared for a season he was looking forward to with a group of players he felt connected well during the COVID-19 shutdown. He said the group of players this year are similar to the 2017 team who won the regular-season C-USA title and went two games deep in the National Invitational Volleyball Championship.
“We had some potential this year to be great with this group of players,” Palileo said. “When comparing the 2017 season, we have the same kind of makeup as that group and we’re excited to work with what we’ve put together so far.”
North Texas soccer in 2019 (15-6-1, 7-2-1 C-USA) completed its 25th straight winning season in a row. While winning their third straight conference title, the Mean Green outscored their opponents 10-3 in the three-game tournament.
The team returns 18 players from last year and brings in 11 new faces (10 freshmen) to pursue a 26th winning season. Hedlund says the team has followed the guidelines and restricted outside contact to progress future exhibitions and expand on practice times.
“They’ve been really good about staying in their little bubble, they workout and eat together and they’ve all stayed safe,” Hedlund said. “It only takes a few to go outside the circle to test positive and wipe half the team, where you can’t practice for two weeks. We’ve put together some exhibition games for October and they want to be a part of that, but at the same time you still have to follow all the rules to get there.”
Eleven players return from last year’s team including senior outside hitter Valerie Valerian and junior outside hitter Rhett Robinson who earned first team All C-USA.
“It was a little shocking to hear about the season being pushed back because school was beginning to start and we had been working hard during practices,” Valerian said. “Even though we felt disappointed at first, it really shouldn’t affect your preparation. We’re going to continue to work hard like we’ve been doing regardless if the season is in the fall or spring.”
With both sports having extra time on their hands to prepare for the spring, each team plans to focus on accomplishing specific goals that normally wouldn’t be executed under certain time constraints.
Freshman midfielder Taylor Tufts said the soccer team plans to work on bonding more and building team chemistry while having a young team.
“Obviously we’d like to work on overall bonding on and off the field but with COVID restrictions that kind of sets us back,” Tufts said. “Also another thing we can focus on is getting in better shape now that we have more time on our hands. I don’t see this fall hurting us because we’ll more time to practice and get to know each other on the field.”
Some of the goals the volleyball team has in mind are making sure the young players get adjusted to the team style of play and system, including returning players after having multiple months off. Palileo says there are freshmen on the team who will have a chance to make an impact.
“What we want them to focus on are the little nuances within the game that you tend to forget when you haven’t played in a while,” Palileo said. “We’ve been teaching the young players how to practice and getting them out of the old habits they came in with. There are a couple of freshmen that have the opportunity to play and it’s important to get them ready to compete at a high level.”
Players on both teams have taken the new semester with a change of heart after being limited to training and practice on campus during the COVID-19 shutdown the school implemented in March.
The ability to see their teammates in practices again and getting back into the groove of things is something the athletes plan on taking advantage of.
“I feel like we’re lucky to be able to practice because there are other teams who aren’t able to do that,” sophomore midfielder Michelle Gonzalez said. “I’m grateful that I have the chance to be with my teammates doing the things we’ve done and so are they.”
Junior middle blocker Sarah Haeussler said the group of seniors on the volleyball team has focused on the moment at hand when they’re together. She credits the time during quarantine to reflect on a new perspective that her time as an athlete is limited.
“You think about taking every single day, practice and game like it’s your last to push your teammates and yourself making sure you never take anything for granted,” Haessler said. “That’s one thing during quarantine that we learned is things can go away quickly and you need to truly enjoy the moment. Even though things might not seem like fun at the moment, it now puts things into a bigger perspective that you only get to do this once in your life.”
Featured Images: Junior outside hitter Valerie Valerian spikes the balls during the game against UTSA on Nov. 16, 2019. Image by Isabel Anes
Freshmen forward Allie Byrd dribbles through defenders to get in position to score against FAU on Nov. 10, 2019. Byrd scored two goals and won Most Valuable Offensive Player in the Conference USA championship. Image by Zachary Thomas