Belle Plaine native Mariena Hayden navigates COVID changes on her college volleyball team

Belle Plaine native Mariena Hayden navigates COVID changes on her college volleyball team at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

COVID-19 might slow down but can’t stop the fervor of sports teams searching for safe ways to continue their seasons. Belle Plaine native Mariena Hayden says her volleyball team at the University of Nevada Las Vegas plans to postpone its season until January.

“Our conference wanted to have the most realistic season possible for us,” Hayden said.

UNLV’s women’s volleyball team has been training since June and is doing voluntary work through Oct. 1, when practices resume until mid-November. When practice sessions wrap up, the players will go back to voluntary work until the season begins in January. The postponed season will be as similar to a normal fall season as possible, with three to four pre-season tournaments and around 20 conference games.

Practices look different than they did pre-COVID. Although the UNLV players move around too much to wear masks and practice social distancing on the court, they are careful to maintain the recommended 6-feet distance when lining up before and after sessions. The volleyball net has been reinforced with a clear plastic cover, and any used balls are disinfected once the day’s practice is complete.

All players are required to have their temperatures checked daily before being cleared to practice, in addition to being tested for coronavirus twice a week via a nose swab. Although the women’s volleyball team has not had any health issues yet, the university mandated these cautionary measures after other members of its athletic department contracted COVID.

“Our university is super big on safety,” Hayden said.

Currently a senior, Hayden was scheduled to graduate in December of 2020 but chose to defer graduation until spring of 2021 in order to play. Other students with spring internships have also had to rearrange their schedules to accommodate the adjusted season.

“Our coach is super flexible with being able to move practices around to make sure that we all get to be in the gym together,” Hayden said, adding that her teammates were also happy to cooperate.  “I think most of us were pretty excited because we still get to play with each other.”

Hayden has been playing sports almost as long as she can remember. When she injured her ACL in a high school basketball game, she chose to focus exclusively on volleyball. UNLV recruited her for their team during a volleyball camp she attended in eighth grade, and she rewarded that confidence by breaking the university’s record for number of aces in a single game last year.

To Hayden, the best part of getting to play a final season is the relationship she has built with her teammates.

“We’re all so close that it’s basically like having a second family,” Hayden said. “It definitely makes it easier being out here when I’m away from home.”

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