PITTSBORO — With Phase 2 comes greater flexibility.
For the Northwood volleyball team, it meant players could dig, set and hit with one another without sanitizing the ball every single time it …
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PITTSBORO — With Phase 2 comes greater flexibility.
For the Northwood volleyball team, it meant players could dig, set and hit with one another without sanitizing the ball every single time it switched hands inside the Chargers’ gymnasium.
For the Northwood cross country team, it meant groups of runners could split off into socially distanced pods based on previous race times and tackle their assigned mileage at their own pace.
For both teams, it meant a substantial uptick in attendance. With 25 total people now allowed in indoor facilities, varsity coach Krista McGivern and JV coach Olivia Metcalf saw around 18 volleyball players Friday. And with 50 people now allowed outdoors, head coach Cameron Isenhour had no issues accommodating the 20 to 25 cross country runners who showed up on campus three days last week.
That was just a glimpse of a scene that played out across Chatham last week, as the county’s three public high schools — Northwood, Jordan-Matthews and Chatham Central — resumed preseason “skill sessions” for volleyball and cross country after a nearly three-month dead period for athletics.
“I know everybody’s been missing that team atmosphere and social interaction,” Northwood senior runner Malachi Levy said.
CCS workouts officially kicked off last Wednesday, a week after the Board of Education unanimously approved a resumption plan from by district athletic director Chris Blice. And when they took to their respective courts and trails, the Chargers, Jets and Bears all benefited from new NCHSAA guidelines.
When CCS held two weeks of voluntary workouts from July 6 through 17, it operated under the association’s strict Phase 1 guidelines to curb the potential spread of coronavirus. They included: no contact, six feet of social distancing, no shared equipment and no locker or weight room usage.
That limited most sports to pure conditioning. When the News + Record visited Bear Creek for a Chatham Central football workout in July, nobody touched a ball for the entirety of the 90-minute meeting. Players took turns flipping a massive tractor tire down a practice field, but an assistant coach armed with a spray bottle and a rag disinfected it between every single use.
Last week, though, things were different.
Under Phase 2 guidelines, which went into effect Aug. 3, teams can now share equipment and work out in small “pods” of five to 10 athletes. Individual districts may also choose to open up their locker rooms, athletic training rooms and weight rooms with supervision and proper social distancing and sanitation.
“The kids are really glad to see each other, even though they’re separated in pods and six feet away in distance,” Isenhour said. “And it’s good for me to see them, too. I really missed them.”
Junior runner Caroline Murrell added: “A big part of cross country for me is the team bonding, the team relationship, being able to run with my friends and being able to encourage each other. I really missed that part. For the past few months, I’ve mostly been running by myself. It just wasn’t the same.”
The Northwood volleyball team is going with two groups of 18 players each: one on Mondays, one on Fridays. Last week, the team’s first skill session sounded like any other workout, with a steady thump of volleyballs bouncing against the hardwood and players serving and rallying on two parallel courts.
“Each workout piggy backs off another,” McGivern said. “You start doing a little bit of ball control, then add hitting, then add blocking. Everything comes in steps and phases.”
There were of course, some oddities: JV coach Metcalf sitting cross-legged and disinfecting dozens of volleyballs before and after the workout, co-athletic director Cameron Vernon helping check temperatures at the door and an ill-timed fire alarm forcing the Chargers out of the gym on their first day back. (They took it in stride and continued conditioning work in the visitor’s parking lot.)
The same went for cross country, where pods of runners had to keep pace with one another without running explicitly side by side, and Isenhour had to cut a final cool-down drill short, instructing athletes to finish up at home so he wouldn’t exceed the 90-minute skill session time limit.
Communal water sources were a relic of the past for both teams, with athletes’ individual Hydro Flasks and CamelBaks replacing the usual 10-gallon orange Gatorade-brand coolers and stacks of paper cups you’d see at any game or practice. Players wore masks when they weren’t engaged in physical activity, coaches wore masks at all times and everyone answered a lengthy list of pre-workout COVID-19 screening questions.
None of that, though, put a damper on what ended up an exciting week in Pittsboro, Siler City and Bear Creek alike. Volleyball and cross country teams can officially practice Nov. 4 and officially compete Nov. 16 in the first sanctioned regular-season events since the NCHSAA paused athletics in March.
Those looming dates were plenty enough to keep teams like Northwood cross country motivated — as Murrell put it last Friday, the Chargers are no longer “running just to run.” Levy agreed.
“(Now) we’re actually, definitely training for something,” he said. “I know on the guys’ side, we have some big goals and expectations for this year. It’s really nice to know those races are still going to be happening."
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