Volleyball, football get belated fall seasons in MSHSL reversal

Kellenah Stephens (right) and Ashley Crowl, Cougar volleyball players, eyed the server during a summer practice.

Football and volleyball players and coaches got the news they were hoping for last week when their fall seasons were reinstated.

“We were hearing rumors about having a season for a few weeks, so I was not surprised,” said Mike Diggins, Centennial Cougars football coach. “Of course I’m eager to get going.” 

Reversing a decision in early August to move football and volleyball to a spring season, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) directors voted Sept. 21 for an October/December season for each.

The MSHSL also decreed that there would be no state tournaments in any fall sport. The other fall sports have been operating since late August with shorter schedules and other pandemic restrictions.

The schedule will include six football games and 14 volleyball games, plus an abbreviated section playoff. The directors voted 15-3 for fall football and 14-4 for fall volleyball.

For each sport, practices began Monday, Sept. 28. The Cougar volleyball season opener will be Thursday, Oct. 8, at Elk River. The football opener will be Friday, Oct. 9, at home against Champlin Park.

Jackie Rehbein-Manthey, volleyball coach, said she was surprised by the starting date because it doesn’t give them much time to plan and make arrangements. She filled a coaching vacancy on the same day as the announcement.

“Original information that was floating around was an Oct. 12 start date, so any high school players that were playing in a fall club season could complete their commitment,” she said.

The coaching staff, she said, will be sure to encounter “hiccups” as they navigate the new normal.

“But we are happy we get to play this fall. We are still ironing out the details for games but we do know fans will not be able to attend as we are an indoor sport.”

The MSHSL’s reversal came on the heels of the Big Ten announcing Sept. 16 that they will start football the weekend of Oct. 23-24 rather than have the spring season they designated earlier. Another possible influence was a grassroots group called “Let Them Play” pushing for fall seasons for football and volleyball.

With COVID-19’s USA death toll recently passing 200,000, the pandemic continues to loom over sports and all other aspects of American life.

“We at Centennial are supportive of the decision made by the MSHSL Board this past Monday to move football and volleyball back to fall,” said Brian Jamros, activities director. 

“If at any point in time either the MSHSL or our district feel playing these sports puts the health and well-being of our coaches and/or students at risk, we will not hesitate to make changes.” 

 Said Diggins: “We do have some kids that won’t be able to play because of COVID, but that is completely understandable. Families have to make decisions on what’s best for their son and family. I support each family and their decisions.”

Said Rehbein-Manthey: “We have had a great turnout for players at our fall practice sessions, but in the end, it is a decision each player and family needs to make. Everyone’s situation is different and I respect whatever decision they come to.”

Diggins said football coaches regret a couple aspects of this situation.

“I did not like that some players had surgeries in the fall so they could play in the spring, and now they are out,” he said. 

Also: “We told kids to play other sports and now it puts kids in a no-win situation.”

On the other hand, he’s happy that spring athletes “should be back to normal time frames.” If volleyball and football had been held from late March to early May as planned, the spring sports would have started late and lasted through June.

About the task at hand, Diggins said, “We have to change practices around to get kids in shape and football-ready. Kids have been off for six weeks and have lost the conditioning  they have gained in summer.”

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