It’s quite the bittersweet end of the season for the Faribault volleyball team. There was so much yet to do.

Just one game after senior Hanna Cunniff passed 1,000 digs for her career, she finished shy of the all-time school record for career digs. Payton Evenstad and Bennett Wolff were on their way to the top of the record book in assists. Payton Ross and Nadia Hullett gave the Falcons an edge, continuing to provide solid play.

“We had goals of winning a tournament, which we’ve only done once in program history,” Faribault coach JoAnna Lane said. “Breaking some of those records, any normal year it would have been done. The girls go from finally feeling like a team and bonding to now having to be socially isolated.”

After defeating Cannon Falls 3-0 on Wednesday, one of the central feelings toward the season was just being thankful the season happened at all.

“We’re so grateful for the opportunity to even get to play, because with winter sports, who knows if they are even going to be able to play,” Wolff said.

Since this school year began, everything has involved some sort of waiting. Back in July and August the team waited to find out if they would play in the fall. Then came the waiting to see if they could play in the spring, which was never a guarantee. A season began sooner than expected, but it didn’t have that typical feeling to go along with it.

The Falcons still had to remain cautious, practicing many times via Zoom. With only three matches played in the first two weeks, Faribault halted its season due to possible COVID-19 exposure. Returning to play after an 18-day break, the Falcons packed their schedule. Six matches later, the season was over.

The start and stop nature of the season really took a toll on the group as waiting became the norm.

“We are very positive people. We have tried and tried, but it is mentally exhausting,” Wolff said about having to be patient for their season to begin on two separate occasions. “What’s going to happen next? It flat out sucks.”

For the seniors, it’s been especially tough to wait and keep waiting. Every day has been a challenge, waiting to see if there would indeed be a match.

The usual team bonding wasn’t really there. The players are close with each other, but didn’t get the chance to truly bond in practice as in the past.

“Usually we have a bunch of different stuff we do during the preseason. Build that connection and it transfers to the court,” Ross said. “So that was a huge thing missing this year. I think we did well without it, but it’s a huge thing that helps us.”

“In tournaments we usually go and work our kinks out,” Wolff said of the on-court performances. “We didn’t even have those games where we could go and get all our mistakes out.”

There’s also the responsibility of being a senior leader. Wolff and Ross said they each choose to help others who have struggled mentally through this season and want to try to continue to do so in the coming weeks. Reaching out and helping others takes a toll though.

There’s the undertaking of making stronger connections, keeping up with school work and being the leader they want to be. On top of focusing on getting back on the court, a place where everyone can see them, it’s behind the scenes that most people don’t see.

“It’s a lot of pressure because you’re always in the camera type of view because everyone is watching you not only on the court but out of school too,” Ross said. “Trying to get people involved and stay positive is really hard. I’ll be the first to admit, it sucks. I’m not going to try and act like everything is perfect right now.”

There are a lot of days that are the same. Many hours have been spent staring a computer. Many laps have been walked in the house. Ross and Wolff each said they have struggled with it all.

Everything, it seems, is harder. It’s harder to keep up a good attitude for other people to see. It’s hard to have keep up a role model mentality, without role models the seniors can look up to.

During the preparation for a definitive end to the season, there may be a sense of closure for the seniors who, like their teammates, coaches and parents, may have wondered if any of the games they played this season could suddenly be their last.

“You’re preparing for it all because you never know when it ends,” Wolff said of the game-to-game preparation. “It’s really weird to try and cope with that.”

After all the Falcons have been through, at least they got one more complete team performance on the court.

“The first time in history you get to end the season with a win, but you’re not the state champion or placing at state,” Lane said. “At least they get to go out on (a win).”

It will be hard for the seniors that don’t play another sport. Wolff said the final game in Cannon Falls takes on a unique feeling, much more somber than that of a season-ending loss in the playoffs.

Yet it’s more than the last positive feeling associated with a win. All the Zoom practices, Snapchats, or the group FaceTimes left a positive mark. So, too, did the anticipation of whether Payton Evenstad would be introduced correctly. There’s no doubt the seniors had the most unique in-season experience.

On the other side of the four-week pause to high school sports, Ross and Wolff each suggested if there’s anything to take away from their season, it’s to put in the work to be better, to be strong and to be ready to go.

“Not only as athletes, but take this time to really work on yourself,” Wolff said. “Work on your athletic abilities. For the four weeks, it’s time where we can just work on ourselves and better us as people and as athletes. Do a lot of reflecting. How do you want others to view you as an athlete and a person? How do you want to be the role model?”

Martin Schlegel is a freelance writer based in Dakota County.

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