By James Kay
Coming off of a 29-9 season last year, Riverside-Brookfield High School's boys volleyball team was poised to make a postseason run in the 2020 campaign. While losing some valuable seniors from last year's team was going to be a challenge, this year's upperclassmen came into 2020 ready to take the Metro Suburban Conference.
However, after only participating in three practices before the first match of the season, the IHSA suspended the spring sports season, potentially ending the Bulldogs' shot at building off last year's success.
"It's hard because [the seniors] are missing out on finishing their final year at RB," said RBHS boys volleyball head coach Dan Bonarigo. "But that is the case for everyone right now. The senior class of 2020 from every high school has a very unique experience that hopefully no one else will ever have to deal with again."
While the IHSA has maintained that it wants to figure out a way to hold a spring sports season, the odds of that become bleaker with each passing day. Even with this in mind, the Bulldogs are trying to stay in shape in case there is a turnaround where the season can start up again. While operating within social distancing protocols, the players are going on runs and have been communicating through a group chat.
RBHS outside hitter Vejas Cuplinskas has found a way to stay in shape by lifting weights and hitting a volleyball off the side of his house. He has committed to St. Xavier University to play volleyball next year and is trying to mentally and physically prepare for when play resumes at RBHS or, if the season doesn't occur, stay in shape for when he moves on to the collegiate level.
Even with all of those efforts, he believes there is only so much players can do to condition without being able to practice on the court.
"Personally, I think I could bounce back, but we are all pretty out of shape compared to where we would usually be at this point in the season," said Cuplinskas. "If we were to come back, any game we would be play would be very different from a normal game since everyone would be very exhausted. But we just want to get back out there."
For Cuplinskas and senior three-year varsity player Jonah Raith, the loss of the season hurts more since the duo had a chance to break RBHS' program record for assists and kills in a career and single match. Cuplinskas already broke the record for kills in a single match last season with 21 kills (the previous record was 18).
"[Raith] and I had talked about breaking a few school records which probably isn't going to happen now, which is sad," said Cuplinskas. "Maybe it could happen if we get one game in, but we really just want to play."
While Cuplinskas will play volleyball at the next level, there are seniors who viewed this as their last hurrah in the sport.
"I was thinking about playing intramural when I go to college next year, but I wasn't planning on playing [in college]," said RBHS senior Matthew Hanson. "Knowing this was my last year to play volleyball for RB and missing senior night, it makes it harder that we only got three practices and that we probably won't get to play with each other."
While the team is trying to stay optimistic about the prospect of the season resuming, there have been some talks about what it could do to honor the seniors. Hanson mentioned that the team could attempt to do something virtually if they are unable to hold their annual senior banquet. However, those talks are in the preliminary stage since there is still hope that there could be a season.
"I mean, this is heart breaking," said Raith. "We look forward to this every year. I love my coaches, my teammates are great and I am very disappointed that we don't get to play this season."