None of the players or coaches for the UTPB volleyball team could have imagined a year ago that they would preparing for a season opener in late January.
Different times, different measures.
It may be an unprecedented season but UTPB volleyball coach Tim Loesch and his players are just happy to be back and able to play.
The Falcons finally get their chance after the season was pushed from the fall to the spring due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s been over a year since we’ve played and we’ve had a couple of scrimmages. The girls are getting back into game speed,” Loesch said. “The enthusiasm is high and we’re glad that we get a season and that the Lone Star Conference is allowing us to have a conference championship. We’re just excited to be able to practice and play.”
While it may be an unusual feeling to play volleyball in the spring instead of the fall, Loesh and his players are eager to things going.
Loesch says his team’s motto has been resiliency.
“We were ready to play in the fall and then the season got canceled and we ended up having to practice,” Loesch said. “We didn’t get our schedule until just a week ago.
“We didn’t know who we were going to play. It’s just been a lot of unknowns but we’ve been working hard and trying to be prepared and play whoever we can, whenever we can.”
The schedule will also be very different than in the past.
For one, the Falcons will only be playing three teams in the Lone Star Conference.
UTPB couldn’t have asked for a more difficult schedule as the revamped schedule puts the Falcons in the same pod as Lubbock Christian, West Texas A&M and Angelo State.
“We expect to play hard every game,” Loesch said. “We’re not going to have any easy games. We should have high-level volleyball.
“We have a good rivalry with a couple of those teams so it’ll be well contested.”
The Falcons will begin the season against Angelo State at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Falcon Dome.
To help get them up to speed, the Falcons have managed to get a few challenging scrimmages in the bag, facing Division I schools Abilene Christian and UTEP.
“We’ve tried to get teams that are strong in preseason to help prepare us for the conference matchups,” Loesch said. “UTEP is a good team.
“Normally, we have to go to the Division II teams but because of the current situation, some of them can’t play in their home gyms or basketball is going on so we’re glad to have UTEP and ACU in.”
There are plenty of positives for Loesch and the Falcons, who finished 20-9 last season and will have 12 returning players.
“It’s really nice to have a lot of seasoned players returning,” Loesch said. “We do have some newcomers but we have a team that’s played together and knows our system.
“That’s nice, especially in this chaos. Kids know where to be on offense and defense and that’s been a blessing.”
Among those coming back will be seniors Isela Murillo, Haleigh Robinson, Megan Ashton and juniors Aquincia Strambler and Analise Lucio.
“I think on the court, I expect Murillo to be solid and contribute right away,” Loesch said. “Analise Lucio has been super consistent and was an all-conference player last year.
“I think Aquincia Strambler was a solid attacker last year and is improved this year.”
Robinson said that this year has a much different feeling because of the schedule change.
“It’s been different,” Robinson said. “There’s a lot of challenges like with injuries.
“It’s been really different but we’re working really hard on the court and in the weight room. I’m excited about what’s going to happen.”
Other players are looking at the spring season being a blessing in disguise.
“I think for me, I’m glad they pushed us back to the spring because it gave us time to make the adjustments that we needed,” Ashton said. “I think a lot of us are really excited. We’re just taking it day after day and playing and competing.”
As far as the team’s strengths go, Loesch thinks his squad’s defense will be strong while experience in the middle will be a question mark.
“”We graduated two all-conference middles,” Loesch said. “I think we’ll be fine there but we might be great or average.”
>> Follow Michael Bauer on Twitter at @OAmichaelba