CINCINNATI — Mount Notre Dame volleyball coach Chris Lovett takes a "glass half full" approach to practice each day.
Optimism is a common theme for high school coaches amid plenty of uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I think for us, for me, for the girls, for the program, for the parents -- everyone is really keeping fingers crossed that we can kind of go and get through this," Lovett said.
Girls volleyball is one of four fall sports (with golf, tennis, cross country) declared by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine's office as non-contact, meaning school-versus-school competition is permitted.
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"The summer of 2020 has been challenging," Turpin coach Kathy Carboy said. "Our coaching staff and players have worked diligently to keep a safe environment for our players by promoting social distancing, cleaning equipment and wearing masks."
While much of the statewide media focus this summer has been on football, girls volleyball programs are prepared to open their season Aug. 21 as the only indoor fall sport.
"It's not easy," Lovett said. "I try to keep my mind focused on, 'Hey, today is tryouts. What's the plan? What do I need to get done? What are the protocols?' And try to keep the whatever is a possibility that you can't control out of my mind."
Mount Notre Dame (25-3 in 2019) was a Division I state semifinalist a year ago. The Cougars have plenty of expectations once again.
"They're locked in," Lovett said of MND's focus. "They're not doing anything else. They're not going anywhere else. They're just like, 'Let's start the season.' They're excited for school to get started."
The health and safety protocols have become second nature at Mercy McAuley, according to volleyball coach Denise Harvey, the school's athletic director.
"The girls are doing a wonderful job with their end of the deal -- their responsibility and when they come in they know what's expected of them," Harvey said. "We do all the stuff before practice and then court time, and then there is a procedure for when practice is over."
Harvey and the coaching staff wear masks every practice and it has been an adjustment for the players when they look to the sideline. With players no longer able to read lips from their coaches, hand signals have become common.
"The kids are doing a wonderful job staying focused," Harvey said. "And when they come to practice, coaches are telling me that they're focused and it's their time to not have to think about what's going on everywhere else and to kind of reduce the noise if you will."
Ursuline coach Ali Butcher said the Lions are simply eager for an opportunity to compete on the court.
She has heard from the players' families about how important the sport is to the student-athletes during the pandemic.
"You read all these things and you hear about all these unknowns," Butcher said. "At this point, you just want to give them that opportunity, to allow that release of being at home or seeing somebody different across from the net."
The coaches have tried to stay in the moment. But they've also wondered about crowd sizes at home and road matches.
"Maybe you're going to hear some crickets every once in a while, but I think it's going to be good energy," Lovett said. "It's just going to be something I think I will leave to the seniors and girls to say figure out a way to bring some sort of energy, whether it's cheers or different things, just to have a little fun with it, but it's going to be weird."
Carboy said there is a renewed energy for volleyball among her players during the pandemic. She hopes the players continue to make good decisions about their health and safety on and off the court.
"It would break my heart if the season doesn't happen for our seniors," Carboy said. "Our team is poised to have a pretty good run this year if all goes well. I want that for them."