Pandemic Rattles CapU Blues Volleyball Team

Mental health among consequences of new COVID restrictions on sports

Joss Arnott // Staff Writer
Marissa Ouyang // Illustrator

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry ordered new lockdown measures that began on Oct. 7 that affected both the lower mainland and the Fraser Valley. All indoor contact sports were immediately suspended until British Columbia’s (BC) new lockdown measures were set to end on Nov. 23. Following the announcement, all Capilano Blues practices were suspended until further notice.

The government’s new orders included a complete moratorium on all social gatherings outside of an individual’s core bubble—the small group of people with whom an individual spends the majority of their time; physical proximity is also a factor. The sixteen-member men’s volleyball team is part of the sport group two bubble, consisting of fifty students. If one member of a bubble tests positive, the entire bubble must quarantine. This saves closing the entire school, as only the individuals in the affected bubble go home.

Clinching the semifinals in the fifth set of the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association’s (CCAA) national championship on Mar. 11-14 in New Brunswick, the Capilano University (CapU) Blues men’s volleyball team went on to win the championship; a straight-set of three wins to none. This was the third time that a BC-based team won the championship, and the first time in the history of CapU to win it. However, the team did so in an empty stadium. “We walked into the gym and found out we weren’t allowed any fans there,” said David Dooley, Head Coach of the CapU Blues men’s volleyball team.

The team returned to BC the next day elated about their win—only to be greeted by new lockdown measures. “We got on the plane the morning after the championship and… life hasn’t been the same since,” said Dooley. “To go from seeing each other everyday to completely stopping contact—I can’t really put how that felt that into words.” The team had an outdoor ceremony in August where they received their championship rings. However, they weren’t able to formally practice as a team again until later in the fall.

Six months later, the team was able to re-enter the CapU Sportsplex under new COVID-19 guidelines. The university’s new regulations require students to fill out the Here and Healthy student daily health check whenever they are on campus. Students must also maintain a distance of two meters whenever possible and wear the approved personal protective equipment (PPE) as per provincial guidelines. Although the Sportsplex must be vacated once an hour for a fifteen-minute period to circulate fresh air, Dooley noted that the team was thankful to be able to use the gym at all. Assistant Coach, Simon Friesen, also noted, “I think everyone understands that in these times it’s necessary.”

Typically, the team practiced four times a week and played games on Friday and Saturday. Now, the stark difference is proving difficult for the team. Friesen said that “just being able to get some physical exercise and start playing this sport that we all enjoy definitely had a big positive impact on people’s mental health.”

However, Friesen also acknowledged that playing under the new regulations hasn’t been easy. “I think the mental energy and focus did drop,” he said. “We don’t really have a lot of things that we’re working towards [anymore].” After setting new BC records, the team found themselves floundering and attempted to counteract this by hosting scrimmages, but Friesen mentioned that it doesn’t fulfill the same competitive niche as real games do.

The team was scheduled for their first game against Douglas College on Nov. 11, four days after Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry ordered new lockdown measures that affected both the Lower Mainland and the Fraser Valley. “We were all looking towards the game so much,” said Friesen. “We have a cross-town rivalry with Douglas, and it’s always a lot of fun to play them.” 

Despite everything that’s been thrown at the team, Dooley mentioned that volleyball during the pandemic has been “a bright light in the midst of darkness.” “We don’t really have that option to play any games, to get that competitive outlet,” said Friesen. “We were just kinda practicing and going through the motions.”

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