After nearly six months off, USC women’s volleyball and soccer are practicing again in preparation for their seasons starting Jan. 22 and Feb. 3, respectively.

Women’s volleyball senior outside hitter Brooke Botkin and head coach Brad Keller and women’s soccer junior forward Penelope Hocking all said it was difficult not knowing if and when they would be able to play in the fall semester. It was especially tough because season start dates and practice regulations were subject to change each week due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Once the Pac-12 announced its decision to postpone fall sports on Aug. 11, Botkin, Keller and Hocking said that they were disappointed at first because they missed competing and sporting cardinal and gold.

“We’re all competitors,” Keller said. “We want to play and we want to compete. So when you hear that, that’s a pretty big letdown.”

Despite the initial disappointment, Keller said the postponement was a gift in the long run because it gives players time to get back in shape and work on fundamentals.

Botkin echoed her coach. She now realizes that the level of play would not have been the same in a fall season because they would not have had enough time to train.

“We’re actually taking this as a blessing in disguise pretty much because now we get to practice and compete for a national championship in the spring with a lot of practice underneath our belt,” Botkin said.

While the volleyball and soccer teams must wait until this spring to compete, USC football will kick off its season Nov. 7. Botkin, Keller and Hocker agreed that even though they wish they were out there playing too, they’re happy that the football team is getting to compete and are looking forward to watching their season.

They also noted that the stakes are different for football because of the NFL draft in the spring. Football players need time to showcase their abilities to NFL teams, so USC players looking to be drafted in 2021 would be put at a disadvantage if the rest of the nation’s college football teams were playing this fall.

Now, with more time to prepare for the upcoming season, both the women’s volleyball and soccer teams are back together practicing and abiding by COVID-19 rules and regulations including weekly testing and non-contact practice. The volleyball team is getting back to the basics and adjusting to new coaching techniques since this is Keller’s first season as head coach. The soccer team was recently cleared to get to practice with the ball again in addition to conditioning and lifting.

As far as team chemistry is concerned, having gone through a difficult time like this, Botkin and Hocking were able to bond with their teammates and are more excited than ever to compete with their respective teams.

“Everyone has just been really focused since we got the news because it was definitely defeating at first,” Hocking said. “But knowing that we’re training and that we have everyone at practice, everyone is more focused and more driven and just looking forward to the future in the spring.”