With Big West play about to begin, the Matadors were ready to prove themselves against the best volleyball teams in the country. Everything they prepared for was aimed at being successful in this stretch of conference games.
However, on the same day the Matadors were supposed to play No. 2 ranked Hawai’i, the Big West Conference announced they would be canceling all spring conference and non-conference competition in response to the growing concerns over COVID-19.
“We had already made the switch to online classes and our team group chat sent a picture from the Big West saying that all spring competition was suspended,” freshmen outside hitter Griffin Walters said. “It was really hard to believe that everything that we had been working for was just put on hold so fast. I wish that we could’ve had the chance to prove ourselves during conference, but obviously the health and safety of the team and fans is more important.”
On March 12, the Big West suspended the league’s basketball tournament, which was set to start on that same day. Three hours after the initial announcement, the league suspended all league competition until further notice. The suspension turned into a full-on cancellation of all league competition on March 13.
“We’re standing by the Big West Conference and the health of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and spectators is of the utmost importance right now,” head coach Jeff Campbell said. “There are some things more important than playing games and this is certainly one of those things.”
The Matadors were about to hold practice when the first news of cancellations came in. All the hard work the players had put in during the offseason and during practices had suddenly been halted as it seemed it all had been for nothing.
“We dedicated ourselves to volleyball and worked for each other and it was hard for us to accept the idea that we weren’t going to have a (conference) season,” Walters said. “It still almost doesn’t feel real that all of this is happening.”
Starting off the season ranked No. 13, the Matadors struggled off the bat. After starting off the season 2-9, the team had begun to build some momentum going into the conference schedule, going 2-2 in their last four matches. Those two wins were dominant victories over UC Merced and Vanguard.
“I’m gonna miss being with my teammates and coaches every day. We’d all be in the Matadome, practicing right now if everything was normal,” redshirt junior middle blocker Philip Barker said. “These guys mean so much to me and the season being cut short really does hurt. We were headed in the right direction going into conference. It’s just tough that we missed out on the experience and opportunities we had waiting for us.”
With the concern over COVID-19 growing, the Matadors coaching staff had begun to take precautions to make sure the team would remain safe during this time of crisis.
“A few days before our season got canceled, coach (Campbell) postponed practice to make sure that people were staying healthy and I thought it said a lot about the coaches and the whole situation with the virus,” Walters said. “When our season got canceled, the coaches told us that they would keep us updated on what was going on because it was all so new and could change so fast. I thought they handled it the best that they could.”
Although the season being canceled is a terrible way for the volleyball season to end, especially for the seniors, the returning players vowed to use this experience as a positive and continue to improve for the future.
“For next season, I’m extremely excited for what we can bring. We’ll have much more experience and with the talent we have, I know we’ll be a force to reckoned with,” Barker said. “(We) just have to keep our heads up through this tough time and put in as much work we can to get better each day.
“That’s what volleyball is about, just having fun. I wish we could’ve had the rest of the season to grow as a team and get better,” Walters said. “I wish we got the exposure this year but we’re gonna come back next year even better and I hope we turn some heads in the volleyball world.”