This year’s volleyball season is definitely anything but normal. We all know that life has been turned upside down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and now we are slowly picking ourselves up and heading towards some new normality that no one knows exactly what it will look like. I wish it was as similar as possible to the one, that we knew a year ago.
The summer, probably for me as well as for most of you, was not exactly normal, as I spent it almost entirely in Slovenia(which never happens if we have National team). The plans for National team, which we were looking forward to so much, especially with the historic participation of Slovenia in the Volley Nations League (where you travel and play all over the world), were sadly canceled. The clubs, of course, took advantage of this to start the preparations for the club season early (in our case on July 6), because after a 4-month break from volleyball and only physical exercise(mostly at home), the body was no longer accustomed to all the hard work we normally do. Before my departure to Milan (for the third year in a row I play for Powervolley Milan), I was faced with the new reality of travel for the first time. The club wanted to have blood test results for antibodies upon arrival in Milan, which was almost impossible in Slovenia at the time. I managed to get the tests done and get the results with a lot of help of my personal doctor. Upon arrival, of course, we were all tested again, so the whole team was ready to start with the preparations. Due to the situation in Milan (red zone), they were moved to the vicinity of the city of Cuneo this year, as there was less chance of anyone getting sick and we were able to train “normally” in accordance with the regulations. We were able to enjoy the beauties of nature, but still mostly stayed at the hotel for the safety. I think that all this time spent together in the hotel, gave our team a very nice initial start and connected us a lot from the beginning (which counts a lot on the court when you play).
There were plenty of problems at the beginning and the club faced them on a daily basis. There were problems with transportation, as we were not allowed to go all on one bus together, the equipment of our official sponsor did not arrive on time and countless other small things, that were taken for granted in previous seasons, needed a lot more attention. Now that I look back at our time in preparations, I find it quite a bit “funny” that we trained and prepared, not even knowing whether the season would officially start, but we were really just glad that this possibility existed. Fortunately, volleyball federation has passed enough regulations in agreement with the Italian government to protect players and introduced safety protocols so that the official part of the season could begin.
To explain a little more about this year’s competitions, you usually only play friendly matches at the beginning of each season and then the Italian Championship starts (the top 4 clubs of last season compete in the Super Cup). This year, however, they had to test, in some way, the new safety protocols for the health of all involved. Therefore they organised, as a kind of “pre-competition”, in addition to the Super Cup, the qualifications for the Italian Cup. This happened for the first time in history that the participants of the Cup were decided right at the beginning of the season. Usually the end of the first half of the Regular Season is awaited and then they are decided according to the standings. Fortunately, we showed satisfactory performance and we managed to qualify for the quarterfinals of the Italian Cup. Honestly, there were quite a few surprises due to such an early competition and I’m glad we were able to qualify.
We also played an international competition called the CEV Challenge Cup, which was a bit paralysed this year due to travel restrictions, but with the help of NBA-style “bubbles” we managed to make it to the end. For us, it was a nice test, as the goals were set really high and we were all looking forward to upcoming international matches. In the end, we really put on great performances and beat the Ziraat team from Ankara in the Final. For the first time in my club career I won an European Cup title and I have to admit that I am immensely proud of the team, that we managed to win it in a year, so special and weird like this year!
Complications during the season
This year couldn’t have gone by without any complications. Unfortunately, we had to postpone quite a few matches this year, as the clubs we were supposed to play with had more than 3 positive players at COVID-19. The rule of the League is that a team with more than 3 positive players on COVID-19 is not allowed to play the matches and they are postponed. If this happens in Playoffs you automatically lose the match, because there is no possibility to postpone it, due to our packed schedules. It also happened that we had already arrived for an away match on the other side of Italy and the next day about two hours before the match we found out that the match would not be played because some players of the opposing team tested positive for COVID-19 that morning. Really extraordinary circumstances that I would have a really hard time imagining before this season.
Unfortunately, we also missed about a month of competitions, which fortunately were able to be postponed, due to the infection of almost the entire team with COVID-19 in December. However, I am very happy that we all got over the disease fairly quickly without complications and we were ready to play again after quarantine.
As a professional athlete, I have my daily routine, only that this year it has definitely changed. Surely you are interested how?
It seems to me that the biggest difference in my day is that I really only move from home to the gym and spend my free time at home. I mostly spend it at with my girlfriend Urška or my teammates. Now that the weather is a bit sunnier we hang out a lot on the balcony or in the nearby park. In the previous years my girlfriend and I spent our free days going on daily trips around Milan or even further if we had more days off. Now it’s a bit different. Our socialising consists of cooking, which we both enjoy, board games, video calls with our family and friends, and of course good movies and TV shows.
Furthermore this year, everything revolves around COVID-19 tests. The league has adopted protocols that dictate extreme caution to clubs. We have to do the tests before every match (3 days before the match a PCR test and a rapid test on the day of the match). So I have to be honest, my nostrils have already gotten used to these unpleasant tests when they drill into the depths of your nose. The mask is something we are used to already, and we have to wear it all the time, except when we’re on the court. As Milan was badly hit in the first wave of COVID-19, we are subject to very strict measures and the club asked us not to expose ourselves. So socialising with teammates, which we usually organised after training, is very rare. Most of us also cook at home, only on the day of the match we all go to the team canteen for lunch together after the morning training.
You’re probably also interested in how many COVID-19 tests we’ve done so far … Really a lot, if we played two games a week we had to do 4, and it also happened that during the Challenge Cup bubble we did 8 tests in one week as we were tested 4 times and did 2 tests each time(rapid and PCR). I think we are slowly approaching the number 100. This year, the credit for the season being as normal as possible goes to our doctors and staff, because they really did a fantastic job!
This year’s club season in Milan is slowly coming to an end and the National team season is about to begin
We only have the final part of the season ahead of us, where we are playing for the final 5th place in the Italian Championship. We have the last 6 matches ahead of us and I would like us to finish the year with the final 5th place. Especially after the defeat in the quarterfinals, where we showed a really satisfactory performance against Perugia, but still didn’t manage to win the series. Above all, I want us to enjoy the last moments of this difficult and very special season, which I will remember for the rest of my life as a very successful COVID-19 Season 🙂
At the beginning of May, I am returning to Slovenia to play in the National team. Then we will begin preparations for the historic first appearance in the Volley Nations League, which will be played in Rimini (Italy) and will take place in the form of a “bubble” from the end of May to the end of June. After almost a year and a half, we will once again join forces with all the national team players and I am really looking forward to being able to play together again for Slovenia.
As a professional athlete, I feel really lucky to be able to do my job (train and play matches) relatively smoothly, despite all the limitations that COVID-19 brought upon us. So I feel really grateful because I know a lot of people don’t have that luck. This gives me additional motivation to give my best on the court every day. Showing good performances every time I am on the court, is my way of giving back to you. I want to share with you the positive energy to make your day even better and brighter. I can’t wait to see you all soon again in the full stadiums, cheering for us.