Christine Sauer had mixed emotions when she heard that the Minnesota State High School League was moving volleyball back to the fall.

The Minnesota State High School League’s board of directors voted on Monday (Sept. 21) to move volleyball back to the fall season, reversing a decision made on Aug. 4 to move volleyball to a spring season from March until May.

On the one hand, the Park Rapids head coach was excited when she heard the news that her players get to hit the courts this fall. On the other hand, the announcement didn’t allow much time for Sauer to prepare her young team for a fall season.

“My reaction was mixed. I am excited. I am excited these girls don't have to wait until March with many unknowns of what kind of season they would get to have. It's here,” said Sauer. “I'm also a bit overwhelmed. There are many expectations on teachers right now in our classrooms and adding a very short notice of conducting a fall season means a lot more planning needs to be done. I want to ensure that I have a solid plan and positive vision moving forward with our season and that all takes time. I am so excited for the opportunity to have the season, but know there is a lot of work to be done for it to run smoothly. I have an amazing coaching staff that has been helping me prepare and there is no doubt that this season is going to be an amazing and memorable experience for the girls.”

Volleyball practices will start on Monday (Sept. 28) and the first of a maximum of 14 matches for each team will be played in empty gyms starting on Oct. 8.

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The Panthers open the season with a Mid-State Conference match at Aitkin on Thursday, Oct. 8. The home opener is set for Oct. 15 against Staples-Motley in another conference match. Ten of the Panthers’ matches will be home-and-away matches against conference opponents.

Even with an abbreviated season that won’t feature any tournaments, Sauer and her players are ready for the challenges this season will present.

“My reaction when I heard volleyball was being moved back to the fall was I was extremely excited to be able to play the sport I love again. I would rather play in the fall because it feels normal. Volleyball is meant to be played in the fall season,” said Park Rapids senior Katie Burlingame. “It is sad there may not be a state tournament this year. State is every team’s dream and goal. It will be hard to get back into it, but I believe with hard work and dedication from the whole team, we can make it work. I can’t wait for this season.”

“It will take a lot of planning and coordination. We just got the announcement of our school moving to a hybrid learning model through MEA, and with that comes more restrictions of what we can and can't do in the gym,” said Sauer. “It's going to be tough creating an environment of team unity, hard work and simply being physically ready. Even though it's not going to be easy, I have an amazing coaching staff that is guiding and helping me along with the players. These athletes are ready for some competition. They will do what it takes to get ready. They are determined.”