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Questions linger for men’s volleyball team

Editor’s note: This story was completed prior to U Sports, RSEQ and AUS announcements about the season on Oct. 15*

There will be a season.

That’s what Dalhousie University’s athletic department told the Tigers men’s volleyball team, said co-captain Jeff Walton. The question remains on what exactly that season looks like.

“That’s what we’re working toward. We’re setting goals right now in the first semester for a second semester season,” Walton said. “With the outbreak in Quebec, we assume it willimpact us, but we haven’t heard anything yet.”

The Tigers men’s volleyball team, along with the University of New Brunswick (UNB) Varsity Reds, play in Réseau du sport étudiant du Quebec (RSEQ), Quebec’s U Sports conference. Atlantic University Sport (AUS) doesn’t have a men’s volleyball league. Dal, UNB, the Université Laval Rouge et Or, the Université de Montreal Carabins and the Université de Sherbrooke Vert et Or make up the five-team league.

In a regular year, each team would take a number of trips to the other region to play two or three weekend games against their host. Now COVID-19 and the Atlantic bubble are in the way.

Decisions lie beyond the bubble

Even if the Atlantic bubble were to open, who’s to say universities will allow their teams to travel to high-risk areas, said Dan Ota, Tigers men’s volleyball head coach.

“Clearly there’s a discrepancy right now in COVID cases between Atlantic Canada and Quebec. Who knows what that looks like in three months?” Ota said.

“It’s a matter of when Dal feels safe to send us out [to play]. We’re confident in them that the decision will be made properly,” Walton said.

Two Dal men’s volleyball players jump to block an opposing spike. (Photo by Kit Moran)

U Sports is expected to make decisions soon on the status of national championships for the winter semester, an announcement that could influence whether U Sports conferences want to start a season in the winter. Stéphane Boudreau, RSEQ’s deputy CEO, said making such decisions are difficult in the COVID-19 climate.

“The situation changes now so fast. It’s not every day anymore, it’s every hour,” Boudreau said. “One day we’ll decide something, then the next day it’s back to the drawing board.”

Will the RSEQ try to get UNB and Dal to take part in a season if they decide to have one?

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Boudreau said. “So many things, so many people, are involved in these decisions.”

The ability to travel and play as a university team in the COVID-19 era is hard, and expectations are compared unreasonably to arrangements and bubbles seen in professional sports, Ota said.

“We’re not in that world where we have a lot of resources. We can’t constantly test our players [for COVID-19], have bubbles, or stay in hotels for a long time,” he said. “Our reality looks very different.”

Possibilities within Atlantic Canada

With the limited resources available and a good chance the Atlantic bubble stays closed into January, Dal’s men’s volleyball team is preparing for all options, especially options inside the bubble.

“UNB, being the only other Maritime team in the league, would hopefully show interest in playing soon. But with just us two, I don’t know if we’d really even call it a season,” said Walton.

Ota said a lot remains up in the air, even after any U Sports announcements regarding national championships.

“If there’s no national championship, will there be regional play or playoffs?” Ota asked. Even if RSEQ suspends the winter season, athletic departments and organizations could organize games or even schedules between one another.

That, of course, is a whole different issue, depending on each organization’s comfort level with playing at their own risk or playing without AUS benefits like insurance.

“Finances have been lost too through the pandemic. It’s not an ideal situation,” Ota said.“There’s a lot of moving parts but we’re trying to make the best of it.”

The 2019 Dal men’s volleyball team. (Photo by Dan Ota)

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