SAN TAN VALLEY — The Arizona Interscholastic Association released modified guidelines in an effort to continue on with fall sports during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For many, the biggest question mark revolved around football and how things would work given that it is a contact sport. In the past two weeks, football has seen a handful of schools cancel games due to positive COVID-19 cases, but while teams in Phoenix and Tucson have gone into a two-week quarantine, football is not the only sport to have positive cases.

The AIA volleyball season officially began Sept. 22 for those schools that did not cancel or postpone their fall sports. In Pinal County, all schools kicked off their season nearly three weeks ago, except Poston Butte.

The Broncos were slated to start their season Sept. 24, but after three athletes tested positive for COVID-19, the whole volleyball program went into a 14-day quarantine.

Poston Butte coach Belinda Quesada said it was a scary time for the volleyball program after three girls tested positive.

“First it was fear because my girls got sick,” she said. “Then it was guilt because I thought, ‘Could I have prevented it more?’ Then it was anxiety because I didn’t know how the girls were going to react after that, and I didn’t know how many girls were going to get it.”

Poston Butte played its first match of the season against Vista Grande last Thursday and then had one of its many rescheduled matches Saturday against Apache Junction.

“We’ve only had two days of practice after 14 days off,” Quesada said.

The Broncos held open gym all summer and had built a cohesive foundation among the many newcomers, but following the two-week quarantine it was like starting back from square one.

“We were excited to be able to get back out there and play,” Quesada said of Poston Butte’s match against Vista Grande. “We were doing well, but we just weren’t a team; they hadn’t gelled and they were still trying to figure out the rotations. The three weeks before we got hit with the COVID we were ready, we had our lineup, we knew what we were going to do, and after playing that first game you could see they were doubting themselves, they weren’t playing as a team.”

The Florence Unified School District barely reopened for in-person schooling last week, so when the volleyball program had its COVID-19 positive cases, it only affected the volleyball teams rather than the entire school.

“I am thankful that it happened during our break because we were out, and nobody else was affected by it,” Quesada said. “It was good to know that we didn’t hurt our school. I’m kind of glad that it happened in the beginning of the season; I’m just praying that it doesn’t come back towards the end.”

All three levels of the volleyball program went into quarantine because varsity, junior varsity and freshmen practice at the same time and in the same gym, and the varsity and junior varsity teams usually play against one another.

The end result was that two varsity players and one junior varsity player tested positive for COVID-19.

“It was just a scary time,” Quesada said. “We weren’t allowed to come back the first day of school, I couldn’t see the girls so every day it was, ‘Hey, just checking up on you, are there any symptoms?’ Then the girls who did would text me, parents would text me, and I would let (Noel) Nafziger know and he would let the health department know. It’s been a stressful beginning of the year. It’s been a challenge.”

Fortunately for the Broncos, their matches were rescheduled, and they will still have enough competitions to qualify for the postseason.

Having gone through the quarantine process, Quesada is a bit more strict about making sure masks are worn during practice, and she is directing her team to be more cautious.

“We’re worried,” she said. “I’ve told the girls, ‘We have to finish the season. I know this is a sacrifice, but try to stay away from big crowds. Try not to do a lot of that stuff where you’re exposed.’ That’s what we’re trying to do, just follow the precautionary levels.”

During matches, the balls are rotated out and sanitized after each point, but there’s still close contact at the net.

“We just don’t know anymore; our girls are face to face at the net,” Quesada said. “Volleyball is just as dangerous as football now.”

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Maria Vasquez is a reporter covering Eloy, Arizona City and sports. She can be reached at mvasquez@pinalcentral.com.

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