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Volleyball team prepping for season debut

The volleyball team began practicing for the 2021 season in January.  

The Gorillas will open the season at home on Saturday, Feb. 10 against Washburn at 10 a.m. and Northwest Missouri at 6:30 p.m. in John Lance Arena.  

“It’s been kind of an off year and we’re just trying to give our athletes the best opportunities they can to play,” said Head Coach Jen Gomez. “I think our goals are to be one of the most competitive teams in the MIAA still. I know that there’s nothing that’s going to be kept officially as far as official stats or any of that, but we still keep our own. I want us to be one of the best defensive teams. I want us to be one of the better blocking teams. I think that’s something that we’ve always kind of strived for. I really just want… to give our kids a chance to compete.” 

Laura Willoughby, sophomore in graphic communications and marketing, is excited to jump into the season.  

“Our goal is to return to the conference tournament and win some games there,” Willoughby said. “Last year making it to the tournament was a big deal for us, but we did not make it past the first round. This year we expect more from ourselves and want to make it further in the tournament.”  

Jayden Sanford, freshman in biology, is starting her first season on the volleyball team this year.  

“…My main goals are to learn as much as I can from the program and to help my team continue to create a winning culture with Coach Gomez,” Sanford said.  

Mandatory COVID-19 testing for all athletes and staff is among the bigger changes to athletics and all sports will continue to see changes throughout their seasons.  

“…As I am a freshman, I do not exactly know what a regular season would look like anyways, so I am truly just experiencing things as they happen,” Sanford said. “…We are currently being COVID tested every other week and are staying on top of things so that we can play some sort of season this spring.”  

As this is her second year on the volleyball team, Willoughby has more of an idea of how this season will be different because of COVID-19.  

“There are a few things that will be different this season because of COVID,” Willoughby said. “Obviously, having a season in the spring is very different. There are a couple game days where we will play two teams on the same day. We’ve never done this before but doing so allows teams to travel less often. We will likely not switch sides and masks will be required at least on the sidelines.”  

Gomez hopes to see the team grow together and as individuals.  

“…We have a large freshman class as well as a large junior class,” Gomez said. “So, I’m really wanting to see a lot of growth as far as the freshman coming along and being to step in and pick up where the older players leave off. I’m wanting to see us kind of stay consistent throughout in our… passing and attacking and in our blocking. I think that those are kind of the areas we need to continue to focus on, so I’d like to see us be strong in that.” 

Last season was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns and Gomez is looking forward to returning to the court.  

“… (I’m looking forward to) watching my team play volleyball competitively against other teams,” Gomez said. “We’re getting tired of practicing against ourselves. We want to step across the court in as much of a true official capacity as possible and play volleyball and compete. That’s what we want.” 

Willoughby is eagerly anticipating the start of the season.  

“I think all the girls are mostly excited to just be able to play in a real game,” Willoughby said. “It’s been well over a year for all of us. I look forward to traveling with the team too. Being able to play actual games provides a sense of normalcy that I think everyone is looking forward to.”  

After not playing for so long, the Gorillas are looking forward to the start of the season.  

“…I am most looking forward to getting closer to my teammates and finally competing,” Sanford said. “We have been working really hard since last fall and I am excited to see things come together on the court.”  

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