College of Marin beach volleyball squad, above, opens the 2021 season on Friday, April 16, with a doubleheader against visiting Sierra College. No spectators will be allowed, however,
By Derek Wilson
Haleigh Brown thought her plans were all set, but that was before the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world. Brown had accepted a scholarship to Simpson College, where she would study nursing and compete on the school’s indoor volleyball team.
As the shutdown continued, Brown’s plans shifted. Simpson College’s campus was closed to in-person classes during the shutdown and the fall volleyball season was wiped out. Brown was afraid her college volleyball career was coming to an early end.
The 2020 Alhambra High School graduate then charted a new course that led her to College of Marin, where she enrolled in the nursing program. And she won’t have to wait until the fall to play volleyball.
Brown joined the College of Marin beach volleyball squad, which opens the 2021 season on Friday, April 16 with a doubleheader against visiting Sierra College. The courts are closed to spectators.
“I wasn’t coming to College of Marin until COVID interrupted everything,” Brown said. “Coming here is the best decision I could make… I feel like this is a good fit for me here.”
Life is starting to return to normal for Brown as classrooms open up on the COM campuses.
“The classes are a lot nicer in person than they were online. I think the professors want to see their students’ faces,” Brown said. “We’ve all been waiting for this.”
Kailani Kwan-Sy, one of three sophomores on the Mariners’ roster, is just glad to be back on the sandy courts again after the 2020 season was cut short by the pandemic.
“It was hard to focus on school and doing remote learning with all that was happening in our lives,” Kwan-Sy said. “And we could only do cohorts in practice last year. I didn’t get to play with half the team. It was hard work.”
The Mariners went 0-7 between February and March before the final 10 games were cancelled. The team has 13 matches scheduled between this week and the end of May. College of Marin is one of only eight community colleges in Northern California with a beach volleyball team.
Indoor sports are under pressure to comply with COVID protocols, made difficult by the need to share a gym with men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball, and sanitize the courts, bleachers and locker rooms between events. The transition has been easier for beach volleyball, which is more protocol-friendly. It is well-ventilated outdoors. Courts are socially distanced and there are only two players per side, thus physical contact is minimized. Players and coaches are tested for symptoms of COVID-19 before entering the beach courts on campus.
“The kids suffer the most during the pandemic,” said Lisa Gera, head coach of the COM beach volleyball and indoor volleyball teams. “They have been through so much. We have 10 freshmen on the team who had their senior high school seasons cancelled, their proms and graduation ceremonies cancelled. Playing volleyball this year provides an opportunity to get back to normal.”
“It’s amazing. It’s great to be back here,” said Kwan-Sy, who was granted an extra year of eligibility. “We got to play just a few games last season, so I feel well-prepared this season.”
Brown, like many of her freshman teammates, comes from an indoor volleyball background and is still relatively new to competitive beach volleyball, but she is already falling in love with the sport, and enjoying the connections with her teammates.
“Our team is one big family,” she said, noting that many of the players live together. “I think beach volleyball is pushing me to be a better player overall.”