American Athletic sends volleyball to spring, leaving ACC, Big 12, SEC, SBC alone in fall

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American Athletic volleyball 8/25/2020-Cincinnati volleyball-Katie Karbo-Houston volleyball
Houston libero Katie Karbo reaches in front of teammate Megan Duncan for a dig during 2019 action/Phil Nickel photo

And now just the ACC, Big 12, SEC, and Sun Belt will be playing NCAA Division I volleyball this fall.

That’s because the American Athletic Conference announced Tuesday that it, too, will play volleyball in the spring.

“We’ve been expecting this for quite some time,” 13th-year UCF coach Todd Dagenais said from Orlando. “I didn’t think we would be a conference that would keep the Olympic sports in the fall.”

There are 11 teams in the AAC since UConn returned to the Big East.

Last year, Cincinnati won the East, followed by UCF (Central Florida), East Carolina, UConn, Temple and USF (South Florida). 

SMU won the West, followed by Tulane, Houston, Tulsa, Memphis and Wichita State.

UCF’s Dagenais and Memphis coach Sean Burdette like the move to the spring.

“It’s a good idea for a lot of different reasons,” Dagenais said. “The amount of time that teams had to prepare when they were cleared to come back to campus varied. We were one of the schools that were on the shorter end of that and honestly I was more concerned about injuries more than anything else.

“Volleyball is one of those sports where you jump and then you’re landing three to five times your body weight. You need a heck of a lot of strength and conditioning. We usually go through six, seven weeks just in the summer just to prepare for that. When we came back our bodies were not ready for the load and we started to notice it, probably three to four days into practice. Sore shins and the knees that we hadn’t seen in years.”

Accordingly, Dagenais said he and his staff have already decided that without matches, the month of September will be devoted completely to strength and conditioning.”

Third-year Memphis coach Sean Burdette was actually getting ready to watch two of his daughters play in a high school match Tuesday.

“I think it’s good for us to have a direction and hopefully align with the potential NCAA championships happening in the spring,” Burdette said. “It seems like a natural move, plus it gives us a little bit more time to understand and the protocols and the safety that we’ve got and continue to keep our student-athletes safe.”

Speaking of those NCAA championships, everyone is still waiting for clarity from the NCAA on what will happen in the spring, but that was something that Dagenais considered.

“I don’t see any reason to play matches in the fall if they’re not going to count toward NCAA selection,” Dagenais said. 

There are other problems, however, which other coaches around the country have noted and Houston coach Dave Rehr brought up.

Rehr, the 2019 AAC coach of the year, was also glad to go to the spring. 

“The redshirt thing for us is a good thing because I like the team that we have and I like what we’re doing and the way we’re moving forward,” Rehr said.

But he said the announcement came while he was driving home and hadn’t yet visited with his team. And not only is Rehr dealing with coronavirus and the AAC announcement, it appears a hurricane is bearing down on the Texas southeast coast. 

“Our team’s been kind of resilient all preseason,” Rehr said, who added that he’s glad “that we don’t want to be what happened (last spring) to baseball and softball. They ended it without a chance to compete and I think that’s what our kids want, a chance to compete.”

Two of his seniors, setter Abby Irvine and middle Kayla Weixelman, were on schedule to graduate in December. He hopes they stick around.

In its statement, the AAC said it “will postpone all competition and conference championships in the sports of men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball until the spring of 2021 to align with the NCAA championship season. A decision regarding cross country competition will be forthcoming pending further NCAA clarification.”

It continued later to say that the AAC “will announce the spring regular season and championship formats and schedules after the NCAA Division I Council clarifies the revised playing and practice season and championship formats.”

Burdette hopes that works out in a positive way.

“They want to play and as coaches we want to coach, but we want to give them the best opportunity to compete and have as much of a full/regular season as possible,” Burdette said.

“If that means moving to the spring and lets us analyze things a little more and figure out how to get them as much as possible, then I think that’s great.”

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