Geneseo Volleyball and Basketball coach shares thoughts

Wednesday, Jan. 27 – the date the IHSA was to meet and set some guidelines for upcoming sports.

Deadline for the Henry County Republic is Tuesday, Jan. 26, so as of press time; the results of that meeting were unknown. But prior to that date, I had an opportunity to interview Casey Komel regarding her thoughts as the varsity volleyball coach at Geneseo High School and a Geneseo Middle School girls’ basketball coach.

When asked on Friday, Jan. 22, about her thoughts regarding a basketball or volleyball season, Komel described that as a “loaded question after the IHSA announced they were updating the All-Sports policies and seasons this past week. They haven’t given us any other information yet, there’s a lot they are trying to work out and ‘get right’. We really don’t know for sure until after their meeting on Jan. 27. What it sounds like is that the Illinois Department of Health and the IHSA are working to make sure all sports are going to b able to have some form of season.”

“The only things I think this ‘guarantees’ as of today (Jan. 22) is that teams will be allowed to have practices and competitions,” Komel said. “What those competitions look like, I’m not sure.”

“I’m definitely hoping that, not for just basketball and volleyball, but for all sports, that all of our athletes get an opportunity to compete and have a season,” she added. “My heart still hurts for the seniors and varsity teams from spring 2020 who lost essentially their entire seasons. I am thrilled that the IDPH and IHSA are working toward a way to avoid tht heartache again.”

If not for the pandemic, volleyball season would have started around Aug. 12, Komel said. “This fall we weren’t able to have any contact with the athletes until early September, and even then it was modified to limited ‘contact days,’ similar to what we normally do in the summer, except we were still not fully able to scrimmage until a few weeks into our ‘fall contact days’.” “This year we were shifted to a spring sport and our start date is Feb. 15, as of Jan. 22, and that could change,” she said.

Tryouts for Middle School basketball either the week before winter break or the week when school resumes after break.

Komel said practices originally were planned to begin the week school resumed in January, but because the region remained in a higher Tier of restrictions, practices were postponed until Jan. 19 “due to trying to wait until we felt it was completely safe to have the girls together in the gym,” she explained.

Even though basketball is currently happening, Komel said full updates have not been received on the changes with the new guidelines in place for the Middle School program, “so we are having a couple of practices each week with both seventh and eighth grade

levels. High school basketball is doing a similar thing, but will likely transition into more practice and hopefully some competitions against other schools.”

“Right now for Middle School basketball, we are able to practice only, but I’m hoping we will get to play a few games, but these IHSA updates don’t guarantee any changes to the Middle School athletic schedules. Even after only two practices with our group, I would be very sad to not get to see this group compete. They have proven to be sponges, in just two days we have seen some incredible form and technique improvements. The 11 seventh grade girls we have showing up are there to get better as individuals and as a team. It’s been a lot of fun so far!”

The Middle School basketball numbers range form 14 to 20 per grade and Komel said, “This year we only have 11 players for seventh and 10 players for eighth grade. We coaches aren’t sure why we are a little low on numbers, but we are so grateful for the girls who are dedicating their time with us!”

Komel said volleyball was to begin contact days, similar to pre-season like in the summer, on Monday, Jan. 25, but added, “With the IHSA updates, that could easily be another shift we are anticipating. Jan. 25 also starts contact days for All sports not currently in-season. So, after major changes with IDPH and IHSA over the past few days and weeks the athletic department –Joe Nichols and Stephanie VanOpDorp – and all of us coaches vying for gym time are working out the best way to get every program the time they need in the spaces we have available. When we do get to be in the gym, we will be able to have normal practices including scrimmages (a great improvement from the contact days we had over the summer. Volleyball is also a ‘moderate risk’ sport so in Tier 1, which is where we are currently at our region, we can have competitions against other schools in our region. I’m thrilled about this and hope we can stay in Tier 1 or improve to Phase 4.”

“IHSA is still reporting that high school volleyball will start Feb. 15 for practices and March 1 is when we can start having competitions,” she said. “I do think there is a possibility that with the new updates that IHSA will announce Jan. 27, those dates could change.”

When asked if she thought there might be a possibility that both volleyball and basketball would happen at the same time, Komel replied, “I highly doubt that will happen. There are far too many athletes and coaches that are committed to both sports that the IHSA would get a lot of resistance with a decision like that.”

Keeping the athletes in shape is also important to Komel and she shared that with middle school basketball practices having started, “For seventh graders, we go through some fundamentals first, as it’s our first time getting to know the players so we are evaluating where we are at and where we can go. We are modeling our practices after the middle school volleyball program that did something similar in the fall. We have two practices each week and we are hopeful that for middle school basketball, we will also be able to safely run scrimmages and being super hopeful, I would say I would love to get some games scheduled as well.”

Many of the high school volleyball athletes participate in the Wellness or Advanced Wellness classes, which Komel explained are PE classes that focus on student strength development…”They are working incredibly hard every day they’re able to be in the gym on the weight racks. All of us high school coaches have the opportunity to attend ‘maxing out’ week in Advanced Wellness last semester and I was truly inspired by all of our student athletes. We have an amazing supportive community and that attitude has spread into our high school athletes.”

Coach Komel also is working with Anthony Roome, a strength and conditioning coaches for the Advanced Wellness classes to create a comprehensive list of movements for those athletes who are not in a Wellness Class…”Some of them have reached out to me, eager to be able to do at home workouts to improve their agility or explosiveness to aid the transition back onto the court,” she said.

“We also have many volleyball athletes who compete with a club (travel) volleyball program so they are getting amazing touches with some great competition,” Komel said. “Outside of keeping them motivated to stay in shape, I have also attempted to keep our team chemistry in check without overstepping their other commitments. I know that they have other Geneseo teams they play for, other Geneseo School activities they participate in, other travel teams they compete with, and there’s the whole remote or hybrid learning stresses we have all been learning to adapt to, on top of the general concerns that come with being a teenager in the 21st Century. So I didn’t want to ask too much of them too often, but we did have a team ‘Virtual Party’ in December to check in on everyone and play a fun game. It was so great to see their faces and hear about some of the highlights with their families for the holidays or just in general during the pandemic.”

“Our volleyball program has the highest numbers of all time,” Komel said. “We typically have around 45 girls total – about 15 varsity, 10-15 sophomore, and about 20 freshmen. This year I have 26 who have been involved in varsity activities, which is amazing and insane and people think that I’m crazy. But we stopped doing ‘cuts’ a few years back. We have transitioned our tryout process and basically we want the athletes in our programs to be there because they want to be there, are committed to their role, and they are sill having fun! As long as they agree to those three components, we welcome them!”

“For 14 returning seniors, they have all committed to our core values for four years and we are so excited to round out their final year with a great season,” she said. “On top of our 26 varsity players, we have 16 sophomores, and a very dedicated group of 22 freshmen. That puts our numbers this year at a whopping 64 and we are pumped!”

Komel also was asked to comment about the number of volleyball players who have joined travel clubs and she said, “The number has grown immensely over the years. For this year, it’s been an even bigger blessing than normal for them to still be able to have some competition when we weren’t sure what would happen to our season. This past fall, the local volleyball clubs had practices for their Illinois athletes when our normal season was postponed. The idea behind this was to ‘pre-train’ them so that when our normal season was able to start in the spring, those Illinois athletes would have already received the training from their club teams that they will possibly miss in the spring due to school games or practices. I was very concerned for a while about the status between school and club but with IHSA allowing simultaneous participation in school and travel teams, I am hopeful that athletes will get the seasons they deserve for both programs they might be part of.”

And asked about teaching in the midst of the pandemic…The coach praised all Geneseo students…”First of all, I want to say how proud I am of all the Geneseo students. This is hard. And so many of our students have learned new coping strategies, learning methods, independence, and they have been resilient for longer than we have ever asked students to do so.”

“It is so hard, for everyone: teachers, students, parents, administrators, counselors, custodians…everyone,” Komel said. “I am honestly giving my all every day and it’s never enough. I am taking more work home with me than ever before. And it’s not just

academic work I’m taking home with me. I’m constantly worried about: What are my students retaining? Did I explain ‘this’ well enough? Did they actually understand me? Are they feeling okay? Do they have enough resources at home? Am I giving them too much? Am I giving them too little? Have I checked in on ‘this student’ lately? Are they enjoying any of the learning we are doing?”

She said the administration “has done a great job of providing the opportunities for our students that are safe during this pandemic. I think all of our leadership teams have put forth so much effort to make sure all of our staff and students have the best possible circumstances to work with. It’s an impossible situation for them, too. And I know parents are feeling overwhelmed. They are helping with schoolwork more than ever this year, on top of any other careers they are trying to maintain to adapt to.”

“I hope that we all remember that no one was trying to make things harder for others during this pandemic,” she said. “We are all trying to do our best to provide what we can for those we are committed to. For me, I am committed to my students, athletes, coworkers, administrators and family. I am not going to be perfect for each of them every day, but I am always trying to be – just like I know they are doing the same for everyone in their circle.”

Posted online on January 26, 2021