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Other Badger fall athletes must wait as University of Wisconsin football ready to open

Wisconsin’s Sydney Hilley, right, tries to block the shot of Texas A&M’s Hollann Hans during their volleyball match at the UW Field House in Madison, Wis., on Dec. 13. (Steve Apps/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

Wisconsin’s football team has been practicing amid a pandemic knowing the start of its season is only a few days away. Members of the Badgers’ other fall sports teams have no choice but to be more patient.

The Big Ten football season starts Friday — nearly two months later than expected — when the 16th-ranked Badgers host Illinois. All the other Wisconsin athletes who’d normally play this fall are waiting for their pandemic-delayed seasons to start in 2021 while they continue practicing and studying under unusual circumstances.

“Soccer’s been my personal escape from everything else, so I can assume that’s the same thing for all the other guys on the team,” said Zach Klancnik, a junior defender. “It’s nice to get back out there, keep competing and do what we love.”

The Big Ten announced Aug. 11 it was postponing its fall sports season. Although it partially reversed itself a month later by announcing it would begin playing football in late October, that didn’t extend to other fall sports.

So while volleyball and soccer teams from other leagues such as the Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference and Big 12 are playing games this fall, Wisconsin’s athletes in those sports are playing a waiting game while COVID-19 rates soar across the state.

Wisconsin volleyball coach Kelly Sheffield looks on during a match against Illinois State played in Madison, Wis., on Dec. 6. Wisconsin's football team continues practicing amid a pandemic knowing the start of its season is only a few days away. Members of the Badgers' other fall sports teams must take a more patient approach. (Steve Apps/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

“Our team has been really strict,” said Sydney Hilley, a senior setter on the volleyball team. “We keep our bubble really small. You’re basically only allowed to be with teammates, family and then if you have a significant other, those are like the only people you’re allowed to be around indoors without a mask on. It’s definitely weird, especially for freshmen who are trying to meet people and get new friends and everything, but we’re really making sacrifices so we can continue to train.”

School officials say 58 Wisconsin athletes tested positive for COVID-19 between June 8 and Sept. 9. An additional 25 athletes tested positive at sites outside the school’s athletic facilities since returning to campus.

The statewide statistics are more concerning.

Wisconsin reported a record 3,747 new coronavirus cases across the state late last week. Hospitalizations reached a daily high of 1,017 last Wednesday as the state opened a field hospital outside Milwaukee to handle overflow patients.

Those numbers help explain some of the protocols that Wisconsin athletes must follow. For example, volleyball players have been wearing masks while practicing.

Hilley said it was a difficult adjustment initially but she doesn’t really notice it anymore. She said after a long rally or drill, players occasionally will pull their masks down away from everyone else to take a breath.

“They’ve all adapted to it,” volleyball coach Kelly Sheffield said. “There’s no pushback. It’s kind of the price of being able to get into facilities and do things while also staying healthy and keeping everyone else healthy. Everyone understands that.”

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