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Caleb Turrentine / The Herald Wetumpka’s Khloe Harris finished with two kills during Thursday’s match against Benjamin Russell.

Since the beginning of June, AHSAA teams have been allowed to return to summer workouts. Some held off an extra week while others hit the ground running, but a few, like Wetumpka’s volleyball squad, waited as long as possible before resuming work.

The Indians just got started last week after Wetumpka coach DeAnna Smith was worried about starting workouts with coronavirus case numbers still on the rise. But some point, she knew she’d have to let her team get back to work even if she was afraid.

“I’m not dumb; the numbers are not going down,” Smith said. “In some ways, it’s kind of like, ‘Yikes, what are we doing here?’ But I’m just going to do the best that I can and try to keep everyone as safe as possible and reassess as the weeks go on.”

To start summer workouts last week, Smith allowed only her eight returning players to begin. That gave the Indians a chance to get their feet way and an opportunity for Smith to see how the girls would respond to the new AHSAA guidelines. Tuesday, she began work with all the younger girls who are interested in joining the team and she admittedly was worried about how that was going to play out.

“To be quite honest, I’m a little petrified,” Smith said. “No. 1, you have an influx of new athletes that I don’t even know. Plus, they’re younger so it’s going to be harder to keep them apart.” 

But Smith is determined to keep every precaution possible in place. Through the first week, the girls were working on mainly conditioning and things they could do individually.

In the weight room, the Indians focused on high repetitions of low weights so they didn’t even need spotters and each girl could use her own rack. When they did come together for some partnered activity, Smith ensured each girl stayed with the same partner throughout the entire workout and the duo used only one ball. 

“I just wanted to reduce the number of hands on the balls and also that way I can make sure I can trace who was in contact with whom,” Smith said. “Not just the athletes but even the coaches, we record everyone’s temperatures every day. We make sure everyone has their hands sanitized. If we are in close proximity, which I’m trying not to keep them close together, we’re requiring them to wear masks.”

What’s really tough for Smith is she’s entering just her second year at the helm of Wetumpka’s volleyball program, and she was looking forward to her first full offseason with her players. 

Prior to COVID-19 shutting schools down and effectively ending sports for several months, Smith felt her team was in a good place with offseason workouts.

“I was thrilled at the progress we were making then boom, it was all done,” Smith said. “Now we’re starting back from scratch. The girls aren’t in the shape they were, and we’re having to take baby steps again. Then with COVID, we can’t do all the ball handling drills we normally would because I just don’t think it’s safe yet.”

Like all other AHSAA teams, the Indians also didn’t get a chance to hold spring evaluations so Smith not only doesn’t have a set roster but she’s unsure how the personalities on the team are going to mesh together when all is said and done.

However, although Smith is still worried about what the future holds as far as the coronavirus goes, she’s ensured safety is going to be the No. 1 priority for her team.

“I just keep saying to them that their behavior is going to dictate whether or not we have a season,” Smith said. “And it’s not just them; they need to tell their male friends to take this seriously. We’re not on an island; they wouldn’t just cancel volleyball, so they need to be ambassadors amongst their friend groups.

“This isn’t a game. We see they are willing to cancel seasons because they did in the spring. If we can’t get these numbers under control, we’re not going to have a season. But my girls, they want to have a season and they’re going to do what they need to do to make that happen.” 

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.