DECATUR -- Eight months ago, Caleigh Craft was killing the volleyball as an outside hitter for St. Teresa's Class 1A state championship team and Wednesday she, along with all Illinois high school athletes, heard word from the Illinois State High School Association about when they could play in their next season.
Some sports — including boys and girls golf and cross country — will move forward in competition as soon as August 10 while other like football, volleyball and boys soccer will be adjusted to a spring sports season that will run from Feb. 15 to May 1.
"It's definitely going to be different having volleyball in the spring but it is definitely better news than having it cancelled all together. It is better than nothing," Craft said. "(Losing the season) has been a big concern for me since this whole pandemic started. I have been praying to get a chance to have a season. Obviously as it is my senior season, it is a pretty big deal for me."
The possibility of defending the state title in playoff competition for the Bulldogs is still up in the air and would be made on a sport-by-sport basis, the IHSA said in their statement.
"People I have talked to have been straightforward that there probably won't be a postseason, even if there is a season so that is some tough news to take since we won state," Craft said. "We want a chance to defend that title because there is no doubt in my mind that we could go back. The few practices that we have had we came out really strong and looked really good so I was pretty confident in us."
Volleyball was classified as a medium-risk sport for the spread of COVID-19 by the Illinois Department of Public Health and Mount Zion volleyball coach Jay McAtee disagrees with that assessment.
"I look at the sport that I coach, and I can see it with other sports, but I think it is absolutely ridiculous that they consider volleyball a medium contact sport. You have six girls separated by a net and they never touch each other. If the ball is the issue, we can keep rotating it and disinfecting the volleyball but I think it is going to cause players to choose between sports," he said.
Volleyball's move to the spring puts the high school season directly on top of the popular club volleyball season that many top local players take part in. McAtee wonders if the club season will now have to move to compensate.
"Club volleyball is hot and heavy in the winter and spring so I don’t know if they will flip club and start doing club right away because that will interfere with all the big club volleyball tournaments. It will be different but everything this year has been different.
Craft plays for the Illini Elite Volleyball Club and she has been using her practices to jump start her college recruiting which has been hampered by NCAA restrictions on high school visits by college coaches during the pandemic.
"Recruiting has definitely been slowed for pretty much everyone since we aren't able to play. Most people get recruited through club and since most of those tournaments have been shut down there isn't a lot of activity going on," Craft said. "I've been filming my practices with Illini Elite and getting a highlight video together to send out to coaches. Illini Elite really does their best in try to work with us and get us into the gym. They are an important club and they do their best to help us so I'm sure they are thinking about all the options."
If and when Craft is able to take the court with the Bulldogs, she feels that volleyball is a safe sport.
"Personally, I wasn't too worried about it," she said. "We aren't really in contact with the other team, it is mainly our own team, and we would know what was going on within our own team. I didn't think it was going to be very risky to play."
Like volleyball, the football season was shifted to the spring with games set to begin on March 5, according to IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. Practice could begin on Feb. 15 and extended contact days would run from Sept. 7 to Oct. 31 with 20 contact days during that span.
MacArthur football coach Derek Spates, though he might need a warmer wardrobe to start the season is happy there at least will be a season.
"I think we're fortunate to be able to have a season in some way, shape or form," Spates said. "I think we're all fortunate to be able to get a season and be able to compete and for athletes who perhaps need a season to be able to impress a college to get an opportunity to play at the next level, that's going to be big to them. Then to just give kids some sense of normalcy just given everything that's gone on around the country this year."
Entering Wednesday, Spates expected some level of postponement or delay of football and other sports season. He like many coaches and players around the state will experience quick turnarounds between season, but they're better than nothing.
"I think it's important that everybody continue to follow whatever guidelines they can follow so that we can get in the fall, spring, winter summer and play some contests," Spates said.
Cross country's return
St. Teresa cross country coach and athletic director Todd Vohland is thrilled that some sports are going to begin again soon.
"I am glad it is moving forward and I think the IHSA has done really an incredible job given the circumstances they were put in. Kudos to them," he said. "In a perfect world, I would like to have seen possibly move into a phase where we could possibly have a postseason but it looks like we won’t right now under the IHSA plan."
Vohland's team has been able to do their summer session workouts just as they typically would under normal conditions.
"We really haven’t done a different thing than we normally would. We wear masks and take our temperature but honestly we don’t do a lot of lifting in the summer so we have just run," he said. "We didn’t really have any limits other than a little more social distancing but in terms of what we have been running there is no difference."
For Eisenhower assistant football coach and baseball coach Kevin Hale, football's move to the spring will create some busy times in his schedule.
"My football season sends May 1 and baseball starts May 3. That's awfully hard on athletes," Hale said. "The summer season is shortened to six weeks (of competition) and if we are going to play in the summer time then why shorten the season anyway? I think the spring sports sort of got shorted under the plan."
Hale hoped that the spring sports that lost a season would be able to be moved into the fall, especially if they were considered a low risk sport, such as baseball.
"I was hoping (the IHSA) was going to flip the seasons. I was hoping that they would do that because we missed a season last year and if the COVID rises in the winter time I’m afraid we are going to miss another season," he said. "My frustration with the IHSA is why make a levels chart with baseball and softball at a low level and then not let them play right now? If we go by the order of the chart, it makes more sense."
Sports reporter Joey Wagner contributed to this story.
Gov. Pritzker warns of a possible 'reversal' as COVID-19 numbers rise in Illinois
Contact Matthew Flaten at (217) 421-6968. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFlaten