Michigan State Volleyball Player Elena Shklyar On What It’s Like To Be A Student-Athlete Right Now

Dec 29, 2020

Spartan varsity athletes have navigated a lot of challenges due to the pandemic, with Shklyar and her teammates keeping an eye on playing this season.

I never thought I would step on to a volleyball court wearing a mask covering half of my face, unable to high five my teammates and not preparing for a game during the fall.

But that is only part of the new “normal” that I live in, as a junior setter on the Michigan State volleyball team.

Credit Elena Shklyar

What was normal has completely changed because of COVID-19. The everyday life of the college student-athlete is something it has never been before.  

It is now one of taking a symptom test and spitting into a tube every morning in order to come into the gym and play some volleyball.

It is now one of not being able to come to practice last minute because a teammate had a runny nose or headache and had to get COVID tested, only for it to be a cold from the weather changing.

It is now one of sweating through multiple masks per practice, not just T-shirts.

It is now one of me texting my roommates offering to “turn in their spit for them in the morning,” so we can get our early detection COVID-19 test results back.

It is now one of my season getting postponed and not being able to compete in a volleyball match in over a year.

How did we get here?

COVID-19 changed everything in my world this year.

Let me show you how.

January-March 2020

Last fall (2019), I finished off my sophomore season with a vengeance to achieve more in my last two years. We had just missed making the NCAA tournament for two years in a row and our goal was not only to make it, but to go far in the tournament. 

My team and I went into our spring season ready to grind and accomplish our goals of becoming a national championship team. 

This was the same time the coronavirus pandemic first hit. I remember being in California on spring break, during the first week in March visiting my brother, when I first heard about it. It all seemed so far away.

I returned to school a week later and was sent home just as quickly on March 14. 

I had no idea I would be home the rest of the semester.

I had no idea I wouldn’t have access to play organized volleyball for a few months, the longest since I first started when I was 11.

The entire time I was at my house in Hinsdale, Ill., my team did daily workouts together over zoom as a way to stay connected and accountable. This was some of my only interaction with my teammates the entire time we were sent home.

June 2020

Fast forward to mid-June, when I was able to return to campus with my team after being home for about three months. I moved into my apartment and got COVID-19 tested the first day I was back.

Credit Elena Shklyar

After a few negative tests and a two-week quarantine, I was finally allowed back in the gym in a small group on my team. These small groups were called “pods” and consisted of about six of my teammates. These pods were the people we were allowed to workout with and spend time with outside of the gym in order to prevent our exposure to other people.

Only a few weeks later, some of my teammates and I had to quarantine twice due to exposure to some positive cases.

I stayed alone in my apartment the first time for the full 14 days, only leaving to workout outside and get the groceries my non-quarantined roommates left for me outside of my apartment. The second time, I had to leave my apartment and stay in the Kellogg Hotel for my quarantined time period of two weeks. 

Everything that used to be normal for me, is no longer normal. Everything that is normal for me now, I would have thought was crazy just last year.

July-August 2020

Around the start of July, I was able to start training with my coaches and team in Jenison Fieldhouse again. Finally, I felt like things were getting back to normal.

I then started to hear rumors of fall sports getting cancelled just like spring sports unfortunately were only a few months ago.

Sure enough, a few days later I was in the middle of practice when we heard the news for certain, we would not be playing that fall.

It’s safe to say my heart just about dropped then.

Everything we had worked for, all of the workouts we did over Zoom together while quarantined in our houses, all of our hard work seemed to be put off once again.

I know I had complained in the start about not being able to go into our locker room and having to wipe down every volleyball at the end of practice, but I was willing to do anything it took to have a season.

Some things are way more important than sports, I get that. But to me, a Division I athlete who had trained my whole life for this opportunity? This was devastating.

The good news was that the season was just postponed and not cancelled. We would have a chance to compete in the spring.

Until then, it would be another few months of practice to prepare ourselves.

September-November 2020

First semester of my junior year at Michigan State has not been what I expected.

I never expected to go a fall season without playing a volleyball match and I definitely never expected spending every morning in my bedroom doing classes on zoom.

A day in my life this semester is way different than it has been in the past.

My usual day now goes like this; I wake up for classes only to roll out of my bed and sit at my desk for a few hours listening to my professors on my computer.

After that, I do some homework until it’s time for me to go into the gym. I fill out my COVID-19 screener, which is a survey of any symptoms we may have, walk to the gym and get my temperature checked in order to get in.

This is one of the only normal parts of my day now when I get to do my treatment before practice and practice with my team.

When I say these are my “normal” parts of my day, it’s really just the finally getting to set a volleyball part.

Nothing is normal about not being able to read my teammates emotions on the court because I can only see their eyes.

It definitely isn’t normal not being able to even fill up our own water bottle at practice because we aren’t all allowed to touch the water cooler.

No locker room access, no access to our coaches’ offices, no access to our fueling station for snacks, limited access to our academic center and not being able to ever really having a set schedule anymore has become normal to my teammates and me.

Not having access to all of these things mainly limits the things and people we are exposed to. We basically have to shower and change at home and make scheduled appointments for treatment rather than freely coming into the athletic training room. 

Everything I have enjoyed the past few years as a Michigan State student-athlete has been limited since and it is necessary. Everyone’s life has changed in this past year.

As an athlete, the sports world has been flipped upside down and thrown around multiple times this year.

I am glad I have had access to a volleyball gym and weight room, as I know some other collegiate athletes have not had that opportunity the past few months. I feel as though this has definitely helped my volleyball skill level stay up as well as my strength and conditioning. 

I don’t know what is coming next for me in the world of volleyball. My dream has always been playing in the Olympics. A more realistic dream may be continuing my future volleyball career as a professional overseas for a few years and then starting a coaching career.

Maybe I will end up following my other passion to a future job as a sports journalist.

Only time will tell what my future holds. If I have learned anything these past few months, it’s that things can change in the blink of an eye and you have to just roll with the punches.

In a few short weeks, I get to go back to school and prepare to start my season on Jan. 22. My team and I have been preparing every day by working out, having team meetings, film sessions and practicing our volleyball skills in order to be as prepared as possible for the season.

I am beyond excited to get a chance to wear the green and white and represent Michigan State again.