Franklin County volleyball, soccer coaches react to postponed seasons

  • Mahar Regional School girls soccer coach Chad Softic, center, talks with his team during a game in 2017. Soccer teams throughout Franklin County won’t be playing games this fall, as the sport has been postponed until February. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier volleyball coach Sean MacDonald celebrates with his team after their MIAA Div. 3 semifinal win last fall at Tantasqua Regional High School in Fiskdale. The sport of volleyball in Franklin County has been moved to February, where it will be featured in the MIAA’s newly-created “fall II” season. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 9/3/2020 4:23:39 PM

While some high school sports are expected to play games and hold meets this fall, others are still reeling with the fact that a relatively quiet season lies ahead.

Here in Franklin County, the sports of field hockey, golf and cross country are powering ahead (with school committee approval), expected to begin preseason practices on Sept. 18 with games and meets to follow around Oct. 1.

The same can’t be said for soccer, volleyball, football and cheer. While those sports received MIAA approval to still practice this fall, no official games or matches will be allowed until the newly-created “fall II” season, which will slot in between winter and spring and run from Feb. 22 through April 25.

Football and cheer were jettisoned as higher risk sports, and no schools in the entire state of Massachusetts will be competing in either this fall. Soccer necessitated significant modifications from the MIAA’s Sports Medicine Committee, while volleyball being an indoor sport that requires the use of school gymnasiums was listed as the main culprit for its postponement. While some districts in Western Mass. are moving ahead with both soccer and volleyball, Franklin County athletic directors voted last month to limit the area’s offerings to just field hockey, golf and cross country.

It’s disappointing news for student-athletes throughout the area. On the volleyball court, defending MIAA Div. III state champion Frontier was expected to put together another title contender this fall. With the news, the program will have to wait until February to potentially get another crack at playing matches.

“It’s kind of surprising that volleyball is being considered, it seems like, a very high-risk thing just because it’s inside,” explained Frontier volleyball coach Sean MacDonald. “I’m trying to balance the disappointment. ADs and principals have to make tough decisions. I’m not in all those decisions obviously, but trying to be supportive. It’s just disappointing that it seems statewide indoor volleyball is being considered such high risk.”

Turners Falls High School volleyball coach Kelly Liimatainen said that while not playing matches this fall is disappointing, she agreed with the decision to postpone until February.

“I think we needed to figure out the school portion of everything first, then get sports into it,” explained Liimatainen. “It’s sad. I want the kids to play and have the opportunity to play, but I think they need to get into a routine with the education portion of everything first.”

If schools opt to play soccer games this fall, modifications from the state are significant. Some districts have decided they are moving forward with the sport, including Hopkins Academy, Easthampton High School, Hampshire Regional and Gateway Regional, and despite changes that would include no head balls, no walls, no throw-ins and very limited contact in general, Mahar Regional School girls soccer coach Chad Softic said he was disappointed that his program wasn’t able to get an opportunity to compete.

“I know it’s out of our hands with the vote by the ADs, but to be honest, I was looking forward to the opportunity to get out with the kids and be in a competitive setting,” said Softic. “Just having a little normalcy. I know the game wouldn’t be the same, practices wouldn’t be the same, but the laughs, relationships and getting outside and spending time with each other, I was definitely looking forward to that aspect. I think there are a lot of net positives with those other aspects of soccer.”

Softic admitted that seeing other nearby districts potentially playing games this fall is a bit disheartening.

“It’s a bit surreal because a lot of teams from Hampden and Hampshire Counties seem to be moving forward so there really is no normalcy or rhyme or reason to which communities are playing and which aren’t,” he said. “It’s tough to really wrap your head around what is really right or wrong, or whether we should be playing. You just hope if we do get the shot in February, the country is in a much better spot with handling this pandemic.”

The modifications for volleyball include several distancing measures to limit contact between teams, though perhaps most notably, “to reduce intermittent contact with opponents, front row plays will be restricted from traditionally attacking the ball while the ball is above or in front of the 3-foot line.” That modification will certainly limit hitting opportunities at the net, as tape would be put down on the floor to keep players back.

“I felt pretty good with the original modifications that the volleyball committee made that complied with EEA and DESE, but the (MIAA’s) Sports Medicine Committee rejected them,” MacDonald said. “They basically said, we’re concerned with face to face contact at the net. So that’s how this 3-foot line came into play.”

At Mahar, Softic said the pandemic, coupled with the budget problems that have impacted the district this summer have made for an extremely difficult environment. The school had to cut middle school athletics due to budgetary issues, and the long-term sustainability of high school sports remains uncertain.

“I know how much sports means to this community,” Softic began. “I can’t imagine a community without sports (at Mahar). That would just be debilitating. Losses like that can cripple a school system really quickly and it’s tough to get kids back when you lose them.

“I feel for everyone,” he continued. “Everyone is feeling the effects. People are losing their jobs, losing businesses. From a school perspective, the budget is a mess and from a sports perspective, it’s just been awful for the kids. Socially, athletically, education-wise, they really haven’t had much go right lately. We’re all kind of reeling. Trying to be positive but it’s tough right now.”


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