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The Tigers face unique restrictions as the only indoor sport competing at the high school

PMG FILE PHOTO - The NHS volleyball team has followed strict protocols from the state as it practiced for the past several weeks in anticipation of the 2021 season.

After weeks of extremely limited practices and not a lot of time to prepare, the Newberg High School volleyball team took to the court on Tuesday for the first game of the 2021 season: a road matchup with Glencoe.

On Feb. 23, coach Mackenzie Upchurch spoke to The Graphic about what to expect from a shortened, COVID-restricted season of volleyball.

Until the week of its first game, the Tigers could only enter the gym with up to six players at a time, weren't allowed to scrimmage due to the restrictions on the size of groups and had to operate under strict COVID-19 protocols outlined by the state for indoor sports activities, including mask wearing, social distancing and sanitizing surfaces.PMG FILE PHOTO - Newberg returns three seniors who have provided leadership to a young group of players coming up through the system.

"The girls have been excited to get back in the gym for a while now, so actually being able to do so is something that we're really grateful for," Upchurch said. "We actually get the opportunity to try. We have used every opportunity possible to get in the gym safely and we've been doing as much as we can. Energy is high and everyone is coming in with great attitudes, which I think will positively impact the team as a whole."

Newberg is adhering to state-mandated protocols, Upchurch said, and she and other coaches are preaching personal responsibility to the players so they can keep playing games without issue. The Tigers have 11 games scheduled against Pacific Conference opponents, with a potential "culminating week" at the end of the season that could take the form of a league tournament.

"We've been talking about staying responsible outside of the team since the summer," Upchurch said. "I feel like the majority of the kids are compliant and take a lot of responsibility while holding each other accountable. We want to maintain the same level of opportunity and keep each other and our families safe.

"We have quite a few returners from a young team last year. We have girls who have been in the program that are ready to contribute in place of the girls who graduated, and we're not expecting a big sway one way or the other. The girls really gel well and get along with one another, so I think the outlook for our season is good."

Despite a lack of time to prepare and the challenges that come with COVID restrictions for indoor sports, Upchurch said she and the players were excited to get started and actually have a season. The importance of having a season is especially high for the team's three seniors, who won't get another chance to play high school volleyball again.

"I think it's really important for the seniors to get this last opportunity to play for us and make memories around high school sports," Upchurch said. "The leadership our three seniors have provided and the friendships they've made within the program is something that will stay with them. It's inspiring to all three of them to get to play again."


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