Athlete of the Week: Volleyball senior Kirby Knapp on getting up after the sun and a fall without round robins

| Associate Editor

In a year without a pandemic, the Washington University volleyball team would be preparing for its final set of regular season University Athletic Association matchups this week, a double-header against Case Western Reserve University and Carnegie Mellon University next Sunday in Rochester, N.Y. Instead, the Bears are still easing their way into practices. All NCAA games are canceled this year, but there is the hope that the spring will allow for scrimmages against individual teams. 

To get a sense of what the first few weeks of the fall semester have been like for the Bears, Student Life called Kirby Knapp. One of two seniors on the team, Knapp was third in the UAA in assists per set last year. She would likely have surpassed 3,000 career assists this year, vaulting herself even further into the University’s top 10. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

Grace Bruton | Student Life

Knapp gets underneath the ball for a set against Nebraska Wesleyan University in the fall of 2018.

Student Life: I want to start off by asking about what you’ve been able to do as a team thus far. What have practices been like? 

Kirby Knapp: We’re heading into our second week of practices in the gym and third week of lifts in the weight room, but we’re divided into two small groups of less than 10 people and we’re not mixing those groups at all. We wear masks when we practice and lift. But we’re getting into practice three times a week and lift twice, so a fair amount actually.

SL: What are you able to do with those two separate groups of 10? Are you able to have something that replicates what a normal practice would look like?

KK: It’s a little different right now. We’re not doing as many team drills, both from a safety standpoint and also just getting back into touching a volleyball and stuff. I think it’s going to pick up more as the weeks go on, but right now it’s right now more individual skill-focused.

SL: Before you were allowed back in the gym, what sort of volleyball activities were you able to fit in over the summer?

KK: Over the summer, they sent us our summer workout program, which we do every summer, and I know that a few girls were able to get into gyms and play volleyball, depending on what state they were in. I was in California, so I wasn’t able to touch a ball that much in a gym setting. There wasn’t a lot over the summer, actually.

SL: What was that like for you to return to practice after not playing over the summer?

KK: I was nervous at first, starting back up and having to wear a mask. And that definitely is tough, but it’s made me feel so grateful for all the time I have in the gym with my teammates now, especially with it being my last year here. It’s definitely really nice to get back into a routine of leaving my apartment and going and working out and exercising and stuff, just being around my coaches and my players.

SL: Given that it is your last year here, I imagine that it must have been incredibly difficult to find out that you wouldn’t have a typical fall season. What was it like when you heard the cancellation announcement back in July? 

KK: I was kind of expecting it. We weren’t the first team in our conference to have our season canceled and we knew we had a team meeting coming up, so I knew what was going to happen at the meeting, but it was still really hard to hear it come from my coach. I think the hardest part was not being around my teammates to process the news.

SL: Yeah, it seems so tough to be physically separate from your team, even with tools like Zoom. Given how strange I’m sure this fall semester has been for you generally speaking with no sports, what’s been the weirdest part? 

KK: I think that waking up when the sun is already up is the weirdest thing. We usually have morning practices, so I’m out of the house by like six or so every morning. So a lot more sleeping in is happening this semester. One of our practices is in the morning, but it’s at like eight instead of 6:30. And then the other ones are in the evening. 

SL: Wow, 8 a.m. is still impressive. What do you miss the most about a regular sports season?

KK: Just the amount of time I get to spend with my teammate on a daily basis. Right now, we are in the small groups and I do get to see my teammates, but I see half of them and we’re not allowed to shower in the locker rooms or use the locker rooms, really. We can’t eat together on campus, so it’s just all of the off the court stuff that you don’t really think means a lot, but it ultimately does. 

SL: Right, that makes sense with it being a lot of the more informal times where you’re getting to know each other and all of that. If you think about what you want this year’s freshmen to learn from you during such a weird and unprecedented semester, what are some of the lessons that you want them to get out of Wash. U. volleyball, or that you want them to absorb as they head into hopefully being able to play next fall in what looks like a normal UAA season?

KK: I think the biggest thing is not to take anything for granted. Obviously, none of us expected this. My plans were to finish out my spring season last year and stay here over the summer and work out and then finish senior season this year. And that all kind of stopped in March and my plans changed. So you just never know when your last ball is going to be—or your last game is going to be. Even though they’re young, it’s really important to know that from the start, that you’ve got to work hard now because you never know when it is going to be the last time.

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