June 15 was a good day for high school athletics across the state of New Mexico.
After spring seasons were cut short and cancelled due to COVID-19 Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico Activities Association opened up summer workouts – with stipulations.
Per the NMAA, teams were allowed to commence with those workouts, which are currently being carried out in three phases. Phase one beginning on Monday let coaches and players practice, minus any type of personal contact, no sharing of equipment and with no games or scrimmages.
Coaches also have to operate practices with a 5-to-1 player to coach ratio and workouts must be conducted in pods of those five players for the duration of phase one.
Even hours into the summer season Monday evening Socorro High School volleyball coach JB Mauldin and his staff and players were making the adjustments in order to attempt to make practices viable.
“Kids are really resilient and I think they’re just going to follow the rules you put out for them. We’re just trying to follow the rules the best we can and give them an opportunity to come out here and get some activity in, get some touches on the ball,” Mauldin said. “Even though they’re just doing stuff with themselves at least it’s something. It’s a start. Obviously it’s not ideal for any of us, but we’re all just going to do the best we can and hopefully we can continue to make some progress and kind of get back to normal soon.”
Every player on the Lady Warriors must use only their own personal ball, and during Monday’s practice members of the team were using walls to hit and set to themselves, while staying at least six feet apart. And there was no net, which might allow players to come into close personal contact.
That’s definitely a far cry from a traditional volleyball practice, but Mauldin said his squad is adjusting well.
“They’re doing great. A lot of these girls we had last year. Some of them are freshman and they’re brand new up here,” he said. “They’re listening, they’re trying to learn and they’re doing what the coaches are telling them. That’s all we can ask for. We’re kind of learning as we go. It is kind of tough.”
But he didn’t go into Monday’s practice blind. He and assistant coach Joni Mauldin, who previously coached the Lady Warriors sat down and came up with a game plan. They figured out what type of practice would be worthwhile for the players, but still stay within the NMAA’s guidelines.
“A lot of volleyball is working together; touching the same ball, passing to each other, playing against each other. Since we can’t do any of that we said what kind of things can we come up with that they can just do by themselves? So that’s what we’re doing,” JB said. “We just keep them working together and keep them all positive and to all work towards a common goal. Our common goal here is to learn, to have fun and let that translate to wins on the court. That’s our whole philosophy.”
The Lady Warriors went 15-11 last season, made the playoffs and went 2-2 in those playoffs before falling to Sandia Prep, who made an appearance in the Class 3A quarterfinals. Socorro graduated just one senior from last year’s team, so Mauldin expects his team to provide leadership heading into what may be an uncertain season.
But his players still need to trust the process, even with the current state of things.
“I think a lot of the older girls, they know that now. So we have a lot of girls who are going to be leaders on the court and in the locker rooms, so to speak. It’s a process so hopefully we can get them to buy into the process and continue to come together,” Mauldin said. “I’m excited about this season. Hopefully we can get back to normal soon. I’m hoping we can have an uninterrupted season. There are a lot of girls out. You never know how many you’re going to get in the summer. But we’re close to the max we’re even able to deal with. So that’s good. We’re looking forward to it.”
The Warriors football team also began summer workouts at New Mexico Tech on Monday.
Socorro is coming off a 10-2 season and an appearance in the Class 3A state championship. Being back on the field with his coaches and players, coach Damien Ocampo said it felt great to get to a sense of normalcy in a safe way.
“We did I really good job I thought for the first day making sure that we checked for symptoms and we kept kids apart,” Ocampo said. “There are areas that we need to get better at but for the most part it was good. It seemed like it was wholesome time that these kids needed. We need to be around the kids.”
As with every Socorro coach, Athletic Director Alex Johnson ensured that all of the school’s coaching staff had tested negative for COVID-19 within 48 hours of Monday’s practices. The Warriors’ had a thermometer on hand to test players, and coaches wore face masks.
Despite the necessary safety precautions Ocampo said his kids were excited to be back on the field with one another.
“A lot of them have been texting each other, messaging each other. I see them talking about how excited they were to get rolling and get back to being around each other, back to being around us and working hard together,” he said. “It’s a badge of honor and we feel like we’re the hardest working team in the state. For them to get back on that, I think it’s a breath of fresh air for them because that’s what they’re used to doing.”
Ocampo said the thing that stood out to him most after Monday’s practice was simply that the kids were happy.
“They love being around each other. They love to struggle with each other. They’re tight. These guys have been bleeding with each other since middle school,” he said. “And that’s a special thing. These are the young soldiers of Socorro. They’re excited to go put in the time and work hard together. They’re a family and make the community proud when we take the field on Friday nights.”