Squeak. Smack. Whistle. The volleyball ricocheted off their blocker’s hands straight down into our side of the court. I hunched onto the court, and put my hands on my knees. In our semi-final match against St. Mikes, the opposing team had managed a huge comeback from a two-set deficit to force a fifth set. I felt as though all the air had been sucked out of the gym. For a moment, I stared down at the court in disbelief and my coach quickly took me aside. He explained to me the effect my negative body language had on my team’s morale. As the setter, I needed to be better as a player. But more importantly, as the captain I needed to be a better leader. I needed to empathize and be a resilient teammate. After absorbing the insights of my coach, I took a deep breath and walked towards the huddle with a different mindset. Many of my teammates were quiet, some slouched, a couple had their heads down. I straightened the posture of my libero and lifted the chin of my left-side hitter. “Look up. We’re still in it. We’re even.” I don’t remember exactly what else I said to my teammates, but as my clap broke the huddle, our team of six approached the court to our designated positions, but this time relaxed and determined. We recovered our emotions. We focused on taking one point at a time. Eventually, we won the deciding fifth set. It was our fourth consecutive CISAA final appearance.
Athletics is a core part of my identity. As a member of the UCC community, I pride myself in trying to be involved in as many different facets of the school, especially extracurriculars. However, I do not believe I have ever cherished anything more at UCC than playing the sports that I love and being a part of a team. While the pandemic has taken away the seasons altogether, this year has shown me just how much of a grasp athletics has on me. I miss waking up early and staying late after-school. I want to go back to hearing the squeaking of the hardwood floors, the swishing of nets, and the rhythm of the ball bouncing back and forth. I crave the team-dinners and the laughter-filled bus rides. The routine and process that I felt exhausting at times is something I didn’t realize I would cherish. Above all, I miss the immense pride I feel putting on a UCC jersey and giving all my effort.