Welcome to a crossover season unlike any other.
Usually, “crossover season,” where one sports season begins as another is winding down, begins in earnest when spring sports begin in February and March and winter sports are still competing.
With most fall sports sliding back on the calendar because of the coronavirus pandemic, crossover 2021 begins Sunday morning at Colorado Mesa with the opening of volleyball season. Another fall sport, soccer, begins practice Monday, and this week, spring sports teams went to work, including baseball, softball and lacrosse.
All this only seven weeks into the delayed basketball season.
It’s a new way of doing things, just as it’s a new look for the Mavericks’ volleyball team. Most matches are set up as three-team pods, all subject to change at the last minute, as was Sunday’s opener. CSU-Pueblo’s pod was scrubbed because of COVID-19 protocols, so the ThunderWolves will now join Regis at Brownson Arena. The Mavs play Regis at 10 a.m., followed by CSU-Pueblo and Regis at 1 p.m., then CMU plays the T-Wolves at 4 p.m.
After losing a pair of All-America middle hitters, Kasie Gilfert and Camille Smith, to graduation, CMU coach Dave Fleming is tasked with breaking in young middles. The power might shift more to the outside, where the experience is, along with the Mavs’ continued emphasis on defense.
“The last couple of years we have been very strong in the middle ... I think the big key is going back to we’re going to be more balanced,” Fleming said. “We’re going to be better defensively, we’re going to be better on the pins, we’re just going to be better overall in all areas. Our middles are still strong, but we’re replacing two All-Americans, so it’s gonna take some time.”
A big part of that defensive mindset is junior libero Kerstin Layman, who led the Mavs with 442 digs last season, 4.56 per set. When the season was shifted back, the Mavericks took advantage of time allotted in the fall to individual work as well as learning the team concepts, much like they do in the spring practice season.
“We’re all really looking forward to it,” Layman said of having to wait several months to play. “Mostly it’s just being more grateful for each season, because every season we’ve entered, you never expect that your season’s just going to be over. Now we’ve had that experience where we didn’t get a chance to play so now we’re just grateful to be able to be out on the court and play someone who isn’t ourselves.”
The fall practice sessions also allowed the freshmen more time to acclimate to the college game and two first-year setters to develop timing with the hitters and learn from returning starter Ara Norwood.
Holly Schmidt is one of the returning outside hitters, along with Maddi Foutz, Ashton Reese and Maranda Theleus. CMU added Paonia High School graduate McKenna Palmer, who transferred from Northern Colorado, so there’s plenty of depth at the pins, where CMU lost Katie Scherr, who had 192 kills and 240 digs last season.
“On the court it’s been really good,” Schmidt said. “I feel like we have a really good defense that has helped fill the gaps of losing some strong attackers that we had, but I feel like with the incoming class that we have and all the people that were already on our team, we’ve all done a really good job of filling the gaps with the seniors that are gone.
“We’re making it hard for (Fleming) to find a starting lineup because we’re doing a good job of being super athletic and dynamic and working really hard.”
With all players receiving another year of eligibility, Fleming has flexibility with the lineup and getting some players who might otherwise redshirt some court time. Plus, the two seniors, Foutz and Norwood, can return for another year.
“It does give us a little more time with no one losing eligibility this spring, we feel lucky to have a little more freedom to try people in different spots to experiment,” Fleming said. “But at the end of the day, we want to compete for a championship. The RMAC is holding a championship and we want to compete for it.”