MISSOULA — It was an interesting summer for Kasey Arceniega.
It’ll likely be an interesting fall, too.
The former Corvallis head coach and Missoula Sentinel assistant took over the reins of the Spartan volleyball program in the spring, not knowing if there would be a 2020 volleyball season.
On Friday, however, Sentinel will be back and practicing fully for the first time in quite a while. Football and soccer will also both be allowed to practice, with western Montana schools looking forward to that prospect.
It will be different, but also something resembling normalcy.
“The girls have done really well adapting so far,” Arceniega said. “I think that it's something that will be difficult, but I think it's something that they'll adapt to.”
In early spring, Sentinel had already begun developing plans in regards to workouts. At first, with the stay-at-home order, the school’s coaches sent guidelines for what to do at home,. But as things began to open up in late May and into June, they were able to set up some of their workout equipment outside.
Arceniega and her team were able to have two indoor sessions before having to put up nets outside and work there. While grass and sand volleyball have allowed her to work with the team on some things, being able to get back indoors is a boon.
Arceniega said she has trimmed some practices this year, but mostly has kept the schedule similar to what it would be normally.
“We knocked off a couple of two-a-days to stretch things out that way,” Arceniega said. “But, you know, my thing is, I really want to get the girls active, you know, I don't want them sitting around and losing all the hard work that they did this summer.”
The strange summer and spring have also left another big problem — figuring out who makes varsity and who makes the other squads. Putting players into “pods” to help with contact tracing should someone within or around the program test positive for COVID-19 adds a wrinkle.
There are other changes as well, with one of the biggest being that fans will not be allowed at volleyball games within the Missoula City-County Health Department. The Montana High School Association bounced that decision back to local municipalities, so there is a chance other schools will allow fans at their facilities.
Class AA teams will not play any non-conference matches or participate in any multi-team tournaments. Sentinel will not begin match play until Sept. 8.
Many school districts are still in the process of making decisions regarding a return to the classroom, with the finer points of what a prep athletic season will look like to be decided later.
“When we go out of county, there might be places where they allow fans or they have concessions open,” Arceniega said. “And those are things that we're just gonna have to deal with because it's not gonna look like that.”
The Missoula City-County Health department has approved plans for cross country, volleyball, golf and soccer. Montana Grizzly football has already been pushed to the spring and the Missoula Mavericks had issues earlier in the summer in regards to baseball tournaments they wanted to host.
Schools in the Missoula County Public School District are hopeful to get started with official football practices on Monday.
Elsewhere in western Montana, football will get started on Friday.
New Bigfork head coach Jim Benn is excited to get sports going. Like Arceniega, one of his first responsibilities is figuring out the varsity and separating the older kids from the younger ones, also using pods.
He has also encouraged his team to use gloves and they plan to wash them before a player takes them off.
“What we're shooting for is normal, we want to get back to normal,” Benn said. “Now we're going to do some of the other things that are required of us, you know, but we're gonna approach it as normally as humanly possible.”
Bigfork expects to start on Friday, as does Clark Fork (Alberton-Superior) head coach Jeff Schultz. The Mountain Cats made it to the state championship a season ago. Clark Fork’s schedule, Schultz said, has not shifted and the Mountain Cats were not scheduled to play any Idaho schools this season.
“Absolutely can’t wait until Friday,” Schultz said.