Walking off the court Tuesday afternoon at Garrison Forest, Gerstell Academy’s varsity girls volleyball team more closely resembled rugby players.
Grass stains and mud were splattered onto many player’s black sweatpants and red long-sleeved jerseys while they posed for a photo after losing the program’s inaugural match. Face masks hid their smiles.
“I don’t know that anyone came home clean,” coach Eric Zak said.
Gerstell Academy had been playing club girls volleyball for the past three years, but this season it finally became a school-sanctioned varsity sport with interscholastic competition. Tuesday’s match — played amid the coronavirus pandemic with several modifications, the biggest being that it was played outdoors — will be one of its most memorable.
“Most of my girls had never played outside before. Most of my girls have never played in a match before at all,” Zak said with a chuckle. “Playing out in the elements made it a little different but they were excited to play and they did pretty well overall.”
The Falcons started with a bang by winning the first set, 25-22, but they stumbled from there, dropping the next three sets 25-7, 25-19 and 25-17. The game was originally scheduled for Monday but was postponed a day because of high winds.
“I was excited that they had some success,” athletic director Phil Gilotte said. “I know they were probably pretty nervous being that it’s a brand-new program and it’s a new sport to most of the girls.”
There were no handshakes before or after the match, and when the teams switched sides after each set, they “walked way around each other,” Zak said. They wore masks during the game and there was no interaction between the teams.
Gerstell had been practicing for eight weeks, the last two together as a team, indoors. Aside from being relative newcomers to the sport and having to learn the laundry list of rules — Zak was thrilled that his team wasn’t called for being out of rotation — the elements added an extra layer to the competition.
“In serve-receive, there’s no point of reference for depth reception,” the coach said. “It’s really different for them because they’re so used to seeing a wall behind it so there’s some point of reference on where the ball is coming from. So that was a challenge.”
Zak said there hasn’t been enough time to reflect on the historical impact of the firsts but noted the girls “understand that they are part of something that hasn’t happened yet there. They are the foundation for the program.”