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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Sports

Inside of UH volleyball’s mindset before the AAC delayed its season; team still lasered in on conference championship


UH volleyball head coach David Rehr huddles up with his coaching staff during a game in the Flo Hyman Collegiate Cup at Fertitta Center during the 2019 season. | Kathryn Lenihan/The Cougar

UH volleyball head coach David Rehr huddles up with his coaching staff during a game in the Flo Hyman Collegiate Cup at Fertitta Center during the 2019 season. | Kathryn Lenihan/The Cougar

Houston volleyball hit the ground running in August when it finally got cleared to practice after months of Zoom meetings, and things were looking up as the team had a few extra weeks to get settled in before its first match, which would have come in the latter end of September.

However, in the back of the student athletes’ minds was always the possibility of another postponement to their season, and that became a reality during the final week of August when the American Athletic Conference announced it was postponing the volleyball season until the spring of 2021.

“I was proud of our kids because there was so much uncertainty, even from the very beginning,” said head coach David Rehr in an interview with The Cougar. “We had a good sense that it was going to be (postponed). We were just waiting for the athletic director to come down and say, ‘alright time to stop.’”

Despite the setback, Rehr pushed his team to make the most of the shifty situation and honed in on the importance of taking advantage of the time they had.

“We didn’t worry every day, whether today was going to be the day. It was just about how do we just keep getting better until they make us stop,” Rehr said. “We were more on the aggressive side.”

Although the routine and preparation for a potential season did not last long, the familiar atmosphere of teaching and working with the players and staff was enough to keep Rehr in good spirits.

“Just everything about our team being together again, there was so much positivity with that,” Rehr said.

When the AAC’s decision finally came, the Cougars were able to catch a small break. When the news broke about the postponement in late August, the team didn’t have to put everything on hold immediately.

“We were told even after the news came out to just keep practicing, so we just kept going,” Rehr said.

With no clear restart date in sight, it could have been easy for the team to become discouraged, especially for the seniors on the roster like setter Abby Irvine.

“Irvine’s going into her senior year and she’s trying to figure out what her life is going to be,” Rehr said. “(Then the season) gets pushed off and creates a lot of craziness.”

Irvine was looking forward to finishing off her time at UH on a high note after she steamrolled through her 2019 campaign, reaching a team and conference-high of 15 double-doubles before her season-ending injury.

“This season means everything. Everything’s kind of led up to (it),” Irvine told The Cougar.

Despite the long delay, there’s a silver lining for Irvine. She gets more time to heal up and recover from her injury.

“I would have kind of limped my way through the season,” Irvine said. “Now I’m able to get stronger and actually compete at the level I want to compete at.”

In addition to her own motor, Irvine thanks the rest of the program for keeping her determined to return to the court.

“I couldn’t ask for a better staff to push me to get to where I am now,” Irvine said. “That was definitely the main drive behind my recovery, it was the people surrounding me.”

Another benefit of a later season is that it has given new players more time to adjust Irvine said.

“There has definitely been improvement. Usually, your freshmen come in and they’re thrown into the fire and transfers have to figure it out quick,” Irvine said, “but now we’re able to really build on what we had last year with all of our new people and make something even stronger, even better.”

Houston remains hungry and energized throughout all of the bumps in the road and is focused on taking home a conference championship. A goal the team fell short of a season ago.

For Rehr, however, the top priority is to keep his team safe as it still navigates the unknown.

“Our goals are to stay healthy and learn as much as we can,” he said. “We’re getting our team ready to play and play at a high level for when we do get to play our first match in January.”

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