The COVID year: Queen’s student-athletes look back on the lost season

Queen’s volleyball’s Erik Siksna and Zane Grossinger weigh in on their experiences over the past year 

Zana Grossinger (left) and Erik Siksna (right) reflect on a truly unusual year.
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With the school year nearly over, it’s safe to say that this year hasn’t been ideal for anyone—student-athletes included.

Following varsity sports being cancelled indefinitely back in the fall—with many restrictions forbidding team gatherings and practices—student-athletes have had to adjust to seeing and being with their team far less over the past 12 months.

The Journal sat down with two members of the men’s volleyball team, second-year outside hitter Erik Siksna, Comm ’23, and fourth-year setter and Co-Captain Zane Grossinger, Kin ’21.

Fresh off their second OUA championship in three years, the volleyball team was poised to make a deep run at last year’s U Sports championships in Manitoba. Yet, a day before their first quarterfinal game, the tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19.

Siksna, who was awarded U Sports rookie of the year last year, felt bittersweet about how the season ended.

“By the end of OUAs there, we were kind of playing at our best that we had been all year, so obviously, having it cancelled, you know, the day before our quarterfinal game at nationals wasn’t ideal,” he said. “But that being said, it was still an awesome year. I really enjoyed it.”

Over the summer, Siksna was unable to play volleyball for long stretches of time; after the tryouts for Canada’s junior national team were postponed, he wasn’t sure when he would be able to get back on the court again.

“It was kind of weird because I went from playing full-on volleyball every day to just nothing,” he said.

Luckily, at the tail end of the summer, he was offered a spot at Volleyball Canada’s National Excellence Program, which acts as a training ground for some of the best talent in the country. Due to the year-long sports cancellation, he ended up staying in Gatineau with the program for most of this year.

“The original plan was the program was supposed to be September to December, because they were hoping the university season would resume in January,” he said.

However, after the second COVID-19 wave in December, they extended the program to the rest of the year.

Siksna said working with high-level coaches like Dan Lewis, a former libero for the Canadian national team, has worked wonders for his game, particularly his passing.

“I felt like I improved a ton, just in all aspects of my game,” he said.

“Honestly, I can’t even say enough about it, how much I felt that it benefitted me.”

Looking forward to next year, Siksna said that although the fate of the season is still uncertain, he and the rest of the team are nonetheless preparing as if it’s still going to happen.

“The way we’re looking at it, we’re just saying, ‘okay, we’re ready for next season if it comes in October,’ and until someone tells us otherwise, we’re going to be ready for that,” he said.

Zane Grossinger, one of the team’s captains, discussed his experience from the past year. 

Echoing a similarly bittersweet sentiment about the 2019-2020 season, Grossinger said being unable to compete at nationals was “heartbreaking,” especially considering the men’s volleyball program has never medaled at the U Sports Championships. 

Unlike Siksna, however, Grossinger was on campus this year with the team, and spoke to how they have adjusted to safety protocols resulting from the pandemic.

The first thing he mentioned was Queen’s handling of athletic reintegration.

“Queen’s implemented a really good return to play protocol,” he said. “So whenever we were able to go back into the gym, it was in progressions that aligned with the public health safety regulations.”

“Through those small groups, we got a lot of reps, individual reps, which allowed us to build our technical skills. We never got a chance to play actual team volleyball, which is something I miss dearly, but we got to build the foundation that will benefit us a lot in the future when we compete.”

Noting how team morale has been consistently high throughout the year, Grossinger lauded the team’s coaching staff for placing an emphasis on interpersonal communication. He felt that the level of support they’ve provided has gotten them through the tougher times over the past few months when greater restrictions have been in place.

While Grossinger is graduating this year, he said the team is heading in the right direction down the line, citing the strides they’ve made toward stronger passing as one of the primary reasons.

“At the end of the day, if you can pass and serve well, you’re going to win volleyball matches,” he said.

“We were already good at it, but we’re even better now, so they’re going to be dangerous next year.”

Looking back on his experience over the past 12 months, Grossinger said it was unfortunate he wasn’t able to play competitively again, but it has nonetheless given him ample time to look back on how much he’s enjoyed his time at Queen’s.

“It’s given me a chance to reflect on all the amazing moments I’ve had while wearing that Queen’s Gaels jersey […] time to reflect and be grateful for my coaches and my teammates and everyone who’s helped me along the journey.”

“It is sad to look back and know that this was my last year, but nothing from this year takes away from all of the great things that have happened in the past three.”

 

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