Tamas, Rayfield keeping mental side of postponement front and center with players


CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Megan Cooney knew there was a pretty good chance her senior season would get postponed before the announcement was made on Tuesday afternoon. Still, hearing the news was reality, not just Twitter speculation, hit home for the Illini volleyball outside hitter.

“We had a lot of time to think about our emotions,” Cooney said in reference to the weeks leading up to the news. “We were kind of expecting the call but it definitely still stung when we found out we weren’t going to have a season this fall. We were just holding on to hope that being a Power 5 conference and all the testing availability that we have here.”

Cooney and the Illini had been on campus working out for more than a month, but were only five days into official practices. No revised schedule had been released by the Big Ten, after the league announced all teams would only play conference games in 2020. Handling all the emotions of so many ups-and-downs is something volleyball coach Chris Tamas is taking seriously with his team.

“The challenges for their age is all they’ve known is the sport,” Tamas said on a Zoom chat with media on Thursday. “All they’ve known is that cycle of play and just to try to get them to realize that but say it’s about being in the moment. We’re very mindful that we’re trying to do this through a pretty big pandemic and we’re going to do our best to do our part. Let’s live in reality, let’s not try to pretend like it’s not happening. Let’s call it like it is and keep figuring out how to navigate the waters from there.”

Illinois soccer coach Janet Rayfield is approaching it in a similar way.

“I always say you can’t control emotions but you can control how you handle those emotions and so I think that’s what we’re really trying to help them with,” Rayfield said on the same Zoom call. “How do you handle the disappointment? I think it’s letting them have that freedom to express those emotions in an appropriate way and us help them handle them.”

Both the Illini soccer and volleyball teams are on campus and practicing. The football team will not workout again as a group until after school starts on Aug. 24, with several players going home after the postponement on Tuesday. After taking Wednesday off, the volleyball team was back on the court Thursday, in what turned out to be a positive moment for Cooney.

“Coming into practice today, I didn’t know how it was going to go honestly but it was great,” she said. “We got to play 6-on-6 for the first time in awhile, getting the whole team. We all competed, really well and had a great practice. We’ve got so much more time now to prepare for a spring season so I think that can definitely pay off with all of our hard work this fall.”

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