“It’s like nothing we’ve ever experienced before. We never tried to play through a pandemic.”
— Florida State coach Chris Poole
If every player in NCAA volleyball is like Taryn Knuth, the five conferences hoping to play this fall have a fighting chance.
“I’m doing my best. I’m not interacting with anyone except the team and the coaches,” said Knuth, one of seven Florida State seniors. “I don’t go out. I’m doing the things that I can so I don’t put myself in harm’s way.
“And I guess it’s just trusting that other people are doing that, as well. Do I say that other people are going to follow the same rules that I do? No,” she said with a laugh, “I can’t control other people.”
Knuth, a middle blocker who was the 2019 ACC defensive player of the year, is part of a group that coach Chris Poole thinks makes up one of his better teams in a while. The two joined a Zoom call with the media last Thursday.
“We’re in a different situation that students who aren’t on college teams,” Knuth said. “I’m accountable to the 17 other people on my team, I’m accountable to the coaches, and the training staff I see every single day. Other students may not have that. I’m taking the responsibility seriously in a time like this and hope other people will do that, too.”
Florida State finished 19-10 last year, 12-6 in the ACC. The Seminoles went up 2-1 but lost in five sets to Central Florida in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the program’s 11th postseason berth in a row.
Gone from that team is Payton Caffrey, who led in kills, but returning players include sophomore outside Morgan Chacon, who was second in kills, senior outside Jasmyn Martin, who was third, and Knuth, who was fourth. And in that NCAA loss, while Caffrey led with 25 kills and 14 digs, Knuth had 11 kills, hit .370, and had six blocks, one solo.
“All of my classes have moved online, so I won’t be going to campus other than practice and to train, so I think that’s good for me, because I won’t intermingle with other people and cross paths, things like that,” Knuth said.
Poole, starting his 13th year in Tallahassee, said he divided the team, now combined, into two groups at the start of practice so if one person got infected it would only mean that half the team would have to quarantine.
“Things are so out of our control at this point. I would have never imagined that going into my senior year I would be playing in the midst of a global pandemic,” said Knuth, a middle from Johnston, Iowa. “If you would have told me that eight months ago I would have been like, ‘You’re crazy.’
“It’s really hard. The seniors can all be going in different directions. People have plans for the future, if they’re going to get a master’s, or they are going to play volleyball overseas, and it’s just not affecting me and our team, it’s affecting hundreds of thousands of student-athletes that are all moving forward in their own lives.”
Five of those FSU seniors are scheduled to graduate in December, so, as Poole pointed out, he could have a completely different team in the spring.
Knuth, the 2019 ACC defensive player of the year, is one of those five. So will she graduate on time or stay on and be a graduate student if Florida State gets to play in the spring?
“She doesn’t know yet,” Poole was quick to say from his office.
Knuth, in her apartment, laughed.
“I honest to God couldn’t tell you what I’m going to do. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen in four weeks,” said Knuth, whose two sisters played volleyball at Iowa State, her brother plays basketball at Minnesota State, and whose father played football at Iowa State and mother played basketball at Drake.
“I’m just staying where I am for right now.”
“I don’t think any of them know right now,” Poole added. He said it’s a conversation he will need to have with those players, but not yet.
Worth noting is one of those seniors is Olivia Dailey, a setter who played three seasons at Kentucky, redshirted in 2018 and then missed last season because of injury. She was granted a sixth year by the NCAA. So in her case, who knows, she could play a seventh.
“We could get started this fall and the season could get shut down,” Poole said. “We know it could happen because it did in basketball last spring.”
Nonetheless, the ACC has broken its 15-team league in pods of five with fall play happening only within those pods. In FSU’s case, the Seminoles play Miami, Wake Forest, Clemson, and Georgia Tech.
Poole said he has a schedule “and that’s what we’re anticipating, but there’s still a lot of talk about whether that will be our schedule or whether that will change.”
While there’s nothing on the ACC website or the FSU schedule page, Poole said his team will play every other weekend, “but the unfortunate part of it is we literally only play four ACC schools. And there are 15 in the conference.”
So Florida State is expecting to play this fall — “training has been going great,” Knuth said — but Poole certainly wants to also play for an NCAA championship in the spring.
Can the Seminoles do both?
“There are so many questions that have got to be answered,” Poole said.
“I honestly would hate to be on the ACC board or NCAA board making these tough decisions,” Knuth said.