“FaceTime is keeping me sane,” American pro volleyball players deal with coronavirus in Europe

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Coronavirus covid-19 3/12/2020
A Verona team meeting with proper spacing

I’ve covered seemingly everything in sports. But this is like nothing else.

While not dismissing any of it — just how deadly and serious the coronavirus is around the world — the havoc it’s wreaking in our volleyball community is off the charts.

Megan Kaplon, Blair Lambert, and I started working on this on Monday with the idea of keeping it to Italy and trying to contact as many Americans playing professionally in that country as we could.

We reached out by text, email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram — you name it. And that was before President Trump announced Wednesday night that this country would not allow flights to enter from Europe. So we don’t know if there’s a mass exodus going on before the edict goes into place on Friday.

The story keeps growing and changing and sweeping over the volleyball world like a bad dream.

Like just as I was starting to type we got this email that said, “Despite the decisions by university officials at Harvard and Princeton to suspend the seasons for their men’s volleyball programs, the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (EIVA) intends to continue its season.”

More on that later, but a few minutes after that the Houston Cross Court Classic, one of the largest non-qualifier tournaments in the country, canceled this weekend and next. That’s huge in a very sad way.

Among the other cancellations are USA Volleyball national qualifiers in Spokane, St. Louis, and Denver.

And that’s to say nothing about the conference and NCAA basketball tournaments. As I’m typing this sentence the Southeastern Conference, where sports rule, canceled the SEC basketball tournament. And now the Sun Belt Conference did the same thing.

And before we could post we got the word that the Pac-12 has cancelled all sports competitions, effective immediately, impacting UCLA, USC, and Stanford men’s teams and beach teams from Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah and Washington.  

It’s impossible to keep up.

We especially feel for the players in Italy. 

“I’m coping fairly well. Luckily I have my dog in Italy with me so I’m not completely alone, even though he can’t speak to me,” said former Texas star Ebony Nwanebu, who plays for Libertas Martignacco. “FaceTime is keeping me sane while I’m stuck inside my apartment all day and night.”

Last season’s VolleyballMag.com NCAA player of the year, Kathryn Plummer, graduated in December and in January joined her pro team, Saugella Monza in Italy.

“We were told to pretty much stay in our rooms or go to the gym and that’s it,” Plummer texted on Tuesday. “We can go to the grocery store but everywhere we go, we have to have this pass with us saying we are from the area and if a police officer asks we have to have it.”

Former Nebraska great Amber Rofzen is also in Italy.

“I live in Chieri which is right outside of Torino,” she said. “Luckily, we are a decent ways from the epicenter of the outbreak. It is about three hours from where the first lockdowns started. 

“Up until yesterday (Monday) we weren’t affected at all with the provinces in the red zone but now it is the whole country. We are allowed to move around our cities, go to the grocery store, go to the gym, go to a restaurant, etc., so in my town at least nothing has really changed.

“I’ve seen a couple people opting to wear masks when they are out in public, but overall the feeling in my town is very calm. I do remember when the cases first started speeding up the pasta aisle and canned goods aisle was completely empty within a day or two. People were stocking up on the nonperishables and preparing to stay in. I haven’t gotten that way yet. I have nonperishables, yes, but not enough to last me two weeks! Ha.”

UCLA men’s coach John Speraw, also the USA men’s national team coach, was supposed to go to Italy this weekend to see some of his players competing in the Italian SuperLega. That includes Aaron Russell in Trentino and Matt Anderson, Micah Christenson, and Max Holt in Modena.

“I feel like I’m spending a significant amount of my day talking about COVID-19, that’s for sure,” Speraw said. “I talked to a number of players and an agent today (Tuesday) over there and I think the situation is best described as constantly fluid.

“The most important thing is for everyone to be safe and healthy, so I’m glad that they’re being as decisive as they are right now with the league and I hope they continue to make the best decisions concerning the health of the players.”

Speraw will now visit with his players by video, “which is too bad because I was looking forward to seeing them play in an Olympic year.”

Jennings Franciskovic, who played at Hawai’i and now is with Calzedonia Verona, texted our Blair Lambert on Tuesday: 

“We don’t have a lot of information other than what’s available in the media for prevention. All of Italy is now a red zone, which means that we should limit social contact (wash hands, 1 meter distance from strangers, stay home, etc.),” Franciskovic said. 

“As for volleyball, our season has been postponed. But it still is considered our job so we have trainings. We’ve split our locker room in half moving eight players to another locker room. Only two players allowed in the physio room with the trainer at a time. 

“All staff is wearing gloves. They wipe all the balls down with disinfectant before and after training and we have to put on hand sanitizer before and after. The biggest thing is that we have to have our temperature taken before entering the trainings. Overall it’s a little chaotic and with the language barrier it’s a bit confusing but we are handling the situation as best as we can and are all helping each other.

He added, “They have told us that we have to go from home to training to back home, with the exception of going to our team restaurant for lunch, but not sitting too close to each other.”

On Thursday morning, Franciskovic texted Lambert an update to tell him that now practices have been halted.

And he just learned that the German Bundesliga will play without fans.

Of course, that’s happening in America, too. Here in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, it’s so serious that the St. Patrick’s Day parade scheduled for Saturday has been postponed. You’d have to live here to understand how incredible that is. But at LSU, the top-ranked beach team is home this weekend and fans are not allowed. It’s hard to imagine, but it’s happening all over. 

Former Oregon setter August Raskie plays in Umbria.

“It’s hard, especially because of the language barrier,” she admitted. “I’m understanding some of it and then having to rely on others to help me process what’s going on. But, for right now, I’m up to date, we have practice, but it’s in the evening and it’s definitely disrupted our consistent schedule of being able to practice.”

Back to Nwanebu:

So I’m living in a small town called Udine, a little over an hour north of Venice, we have only had a few confirmed cases,” she said. “The worst area is in the Lombardy region, which is where Milan is located. Everyone is very concerned about the virus, people are wearing masks and gloves, avoiding people. The streets in my city, which are usually full of traffic from kids going to school and people going to work, are eerily empty. (Last week I was able to drive to practice in 6 minutes everyday vs the normal 15, ha ha).

“If you even feel a little bit ill you are told to stay home, and if you develop any type of fever we are advised to self quarantine. On Tuesday night a few of my friends and I all gathered together and watched the governor make the announcement that the entire country of Italy is going in quarantine. It is now mandatory for everyone to stay in their towns, you are only allowed to travel outside for work or emergencies and must carry around a permission slip stating where you’re going and when you’re coming home. 

“If you don’t follow this rule you can get heavily fined. They are encouraging everyone else to stay home. You must keep at least a 1 meter distance from another person (stores have a line of tap that you must stand behind) all sports and all schools throughout Italy are canceled. All of these rules are in effect until April 3rd.”

CEV also cancelled a Snow Volleyball European Tour event originally scheduled for April 3-5 in Italy. 

Want to bet on the EIVA finishing its season? Grand Canyon of the MPSF was supposed to play at the EIVA’s NJIT on Friday and canceled.

Like we said, we can’t keep up.

So no one would argue with former Penn State standout Megan Courtney, who plays in Novara, Italy.

“I’d love to share,” she said. “But unfortunately there isn’t much to share. We are all still pretty uncertain how it’s going to play out.”

 

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