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Georgia defensive specialist Brynn Chandler (12) prepares to serve. The Georgia volleyball team lost to the University of Missouri Tigers 3-1 on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Julian Alexander, jalexander@randb.com)

It has been more than a year since collegiate athletics first began to deal with the consequences of COVID-19.

For athletes, the past year brought challenges they never had to deal with before. It was something new that players, coaches and managers all had to learn how to deal with on the fly.

With every new challenge comes the opportunity to learn and adapt. Four Georgia volleyball players shared what they learned over the past year, and how they plan on applying what they’ve learned going forward. 

Freshman defensive specialist Mallory Downing had never played or practiced with the Bulldogs when the pandemic began. The biggest challenge from this past year for her was trying to get her life back on track after having open-heart surgery over the summer. 

Although COVID-19 altered Downing’s ability to not only get an appointment, but also begin recovering from the procedure, she got through the process with the help of her new teammates. She said that they were a “huge support system,” for her.   

One takeaway for Downing from this past year was the importance of slowing down and living life in the moment.

“I was not appreciating how normal life was, and just how fast life moves,” Downing said. “You just need to slow down and realize you’re living one day at a time.”

Downing plans to never take anything she does for granted anymore, since she experienced what could happen if it’s taken away.

Sophomore outside hitter Kacie Evans struggled with a lack of motivation when the pandemic began. It wasn’t until she started getting into a new, virtual routine, when she began to turn the corner. 

“We started coming together, doing weekly Zoom meetings, watching film, having some guest people come about what they’re going through,” Evans said. “Having that togetherness with everyone helped us through the summer, when we had to come back and also in the fall.” 

Through this experience, Evans became a leader for the Bulldogs, both on and off the court. Something both she and head coach Tom Black noticed. 

Evans said that her and Black have had numerous talks about her leadership role, and it is something that she had been dreaming about since she arrived.  

“I would just text my teammates like, ‘Hey how are you doing?’ Or I would be like, ‘Hey if you need me to watch film, let me know,’” Evans said. “That was the role I wanted to be in versus me laying around and not putting myself out there.” 

Junior outside hitter Mallory Hernandez struggled during the season with the cycle of going in and out of quarantine as well as changing the lineups after someone tested positive for COVID-19. 

Throughout the season, Hernandez personally had to deal with both realities, as she was one of the players who tested positive for COVID-19. 

“When I didn’t have COVID, I was practicing multiple positions and taking the spot of people who were out, so as a team we could keep on building what we were doing before,” Hernandez said. “When I actually got COVID, I was making sure that I was keeping up with the team and making sure that everyone was still doing what they were supposed to do while other people were out.” 

Hernandez said this past year taught her how much of an extrovert she is. She said that it was bizarre for her not “being able to hang out in big groups and being able to hang out with new people.” It was through these struggles that she learned something important to her. 

From now on, Hernandez said she’ll make sure to value any social interaction and to always try and hang out with people, since she took that for granted before. 

Senior setter Brynn Chandler said she learned the value of proper sanitation. Although it is basic, it is something that she never realized she took for granted. Living in the pandemic helped her realize that. 

“When this all first happened I was like, ‘Oh whatever, I’ll be fine,’” she said. “The second I caught COVID almost a year ago, I’ve been a freak about going places and being around people who aren’t safe.” 

Chandler also struggled with the sudden lack of human interaction. As she and the teammates that lived close to her made the best out of a bad situation, she learned to value these little moments. 

“Sitting in our locker room together, we can’t really do that that much anymore, or sitting at the training table and eating lunch together, we can’t do that,” Chandler said. “It’s the little interactions that you think are so minute, just making sure you enjoy the little things when you can get them.”