Isabel Potter talks Cal women’s volleyball’s COVID-19 journey

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Evolutionary adaptation is quite a fascinating field. For instance, it’s safe to assume that many, if not a majority of, people dislike bed bugs and mice. As a result, we’ve developed pesticides to try and get rid of them. Unfortunately, those pests have evolved in order to resist and survive them.

But humans are capable of adapting to protect themselves, too. For example, back in 2011, research scientists at the Italian National Research Council discovered that radiologists’ bodies had actually adapted to being exposed to significant amounts of radiation and were better able to protect against hazards that came with the job. And while this doesn’t really qualify as evolutionary adaptation on a genetic level, we are seeing humans adapting to wearing masks while out in public and to living their lives in quarantine.

Now, more than ever, we are seeing people figuring out how to continue doing the things they love while staying safe. This is especially true of student-athletes.

While Cal football fans enjoyed at least a fraction of a season this past fall, many sports that require the use of an indoor or water facility have been forced to adapt to a new reality: No indoor or team practice at all.

While this new reality has been difficult for women’s volleyball senior Isabel Potter, she says not having regular team practices has actually brought the team closer together.

“It was hard at first, but now I feel like myself and the team have definitely adapted, and we’ve kinda gotten used to what we can and can’t do and what to expect,” Potter said. “And, if anything, it’s brought us all closer in working with what we can control because there’s a lot of uncontrollables right now.”

In terms of staying motivated to complete workouts without mandated practice, Potter says the key resides in making sure she gets out and exercises every day, even if just for a little while.

“I think for a lot of us, it’s been so beneficial and helpful that we stay in touch,” Potter said. “And the few of us in Berkeley, we try to help motivate each other, so if one person’s going to go do something, a couple of people will join them, in safe matters, of course, distance, masks, all that kind of stuff.”

And while it looks like its season might finally be coming together for the spring, the team has dealt with a lot of uncertainty for most of the summer and fall. Aside from a brief period about the end of August when they thought they would play a shortened season in October, the team members had heard no news regarding a possible season.

That kind of uncertainty and change in schedule would be enough to drive anyone mad. But for Potter and the rest of the team, head coach Sam Crosson has been a strong pillar, reminding the team members to focus on what they can control, rather than what they can’t.

“One thing that coach Crosson has helped us with is really just kind of blocking out the noise, the distractions, the uncontrollables and really just focusing on what we can control,” Potter said. “We can work out how we work out, do what we can on our own or together if we can and come to meetings prepared with the things that we’re working on in the mental aspect of the game.”

Crosson and the rest of the team are also working hard to ensure that they keep in touch and continue to build camaraderie while physically apart. Potter reported that the team has two Zoom meetings per week with its coaches to work on aspects aside from physical touches and to make sure they are staying on top of working out on their own at home. Not only has this allowed them to stay in shape, but it has actually helped the team grow closer.

“What we’ve been doing is basically establishing our culture more and working on the mental side of the game and really coming closer in understanding who we are as people outside of the volleyball court,” Potter said. “It’s helped us grow closer in learning more about each other that we don’t normally learn when we’re at practice.”

In addition to calling each other and, for those in Berkeley, doing outdoor workouts together, the team is also working hard to ensure that its freshmen feel welcome. It’s a difficult time to be a college freshman in general, as social distancing makes meeting friends and teammates extraordinarily difficult. Potter says veteran players on the team make the effort to reach out to freshmen every now and then to ensure they’re doing well.

While this isn’t an ideal situation for anyone — experienced players and new ones alike — the Cal women’s volleyball team has clearly adapted to the constraints of its new normal, and the proof may be in the pudding come the beginning of its season in the spring.

Amber Fang covers volleyball. Contact her at jasper[email protected].