Feb. 23—JANESVILLE — Blake Budrow has a knack for finding the bright spots.
Ask the Janesville Craig High volleyball coach how weird it feels to be gearing up for a volleyball season in February as opposed to September, and he will tell you being holed up in a gym for a couple winter months might be nice compared to missing out on late summer weather.
Ask about getting ready for a season that will include no tournaments due to pandemic protocols, and he might remind you that his players will get to play some dual meets on Friday or Saturday night, which they have never done before.
A season unlike any other began locally Friday night when Janesville Parker/Evansville and Craig competed in girls swimming dual meets.
Like most school districts in Rock and Dane counties—and elsewhere around the state—Janesville opted out of the typical fall high school sports season. The WIAA adjusted its schedule for those opting out, providing an "alternate fall" season wedged between a winter season that ended a little early for most sports and a spring season that starts a little later than normal.
"I'm kind of excited for it that it's in the winter," Budrow said. "The weather is not as nice as it is in the fall, so it'll be fun spending time in the gym. I know the kids are excited. We've had open gyms over the last month or so and had good turnouts, so I think they are ready to get back at it."
Volleyball teams officially began practicing Monday. The first day of competition is March 2. The WIAA calendar lists a potential tournament the week of April 12, though no details on that have been announced.
"We're ready as can be, having not had a ton of work in the last year and a half," Parker head coach Andy Kimball said Saturday. "Most of the other teams will be in the same boat if they're playing in this alternate season.
"We've been able to do pretty restricted open gyms and had some coaching days that weren't allowed this past summer.
"We might have one of our biggest tryouts we've had. We'll see who comes out Monday, and then it'll just be getting brains focused on volleyball again. I know the girls are excited."
The girls swim season was the first to begin the alternate fall season.
"The unprecedented time has obviously changed things," Parker/Evansville swim coach Erin Jensen said. "Practice is different; meets are different, as they should be. But our team remains strong.
"This is our last season as a co-op with Evansville, so every practice and meet is bittersweet. We are lucky to have a final season together, even though it is short and different. We are going to use the time to its fullest."
Scheduling of events continues to be tricky. The Madison public schools—East, West, Memorial and La Follette—remain officially on the alternate fall schedules at the moment, but they have not played sports since they were initially shut down due to the pandemic last March.
So teams might need to get creative over the next eight weeks or so if they hope to get close to competing in their maximum number of allowed competitions.
Strict protocols, including distancing, masking and limiting attendance, also remain in place. Budrow noted, though, that most student-athletes are now getting used to such protocols since they are used in school, sports and general life settings.
"They wear their masks all day at school, at open gyms, and kids that play club (volleyball) I believe have to wear them there," Budrow said. "It'll definitely be different without any big tournaments on the weekends.
"I know the players are grateful to be playing again. You can just see a different bounce in their step in the hallway. They're excited to get things going."