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Jenna Woock on student-athleticism in a pandemic

Varsity Blues volleyball player talks motivation, teamwork, and the future
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SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY
SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

As we are immersed in the reality of COVID-19, it’s been hard for people to understand where the future is headed and what the new reality may look like. This is especially concerning to Varsity Blues women’s volleyball player Jenna Woock, a fourth-year middle blocker. 

Woock, who is double majoring in health and disease, and biology, with a minor in physiology, has spent most of her time at U of T engrossed in the volleyball world and a central team member. She is an athlete who lives for exciting games, and while she is one of the more prolific scorers on the team, Woock is focused on performing at her best for her teammates. 

“I’ve played volleyball since I was 11, and I think the closest friends… have mostly been through volleyball.”

COVID-19 has drastically changed Woock’s ability to see and play with these friends.

Having been on the women’s volleyball team myself last year when the pandemic was taking hold in March, we travelled to Calgary together for the national championships with the hope of bringing back a gold medal. 

We left Toronto with no real understanding of the pandemic. The first day in Calgary seemed normal until the following morning when terms like “social distancing” were being uttered and volleyballs were being sanitized before practice. “I really felt like we were going to win… we had come all this way, and it wasn’t happening,” Woock said. “It was more sad later on, when it hit me more.” 

On the day of the team’s first game, the tournament was cancelled, and the fate of the team has been hazy ever since.

Woock admits that this haziness has not yet disappeared, and the team is persistently searching for their lighthouse to keep them in line with their training and motivation. “There’s only so much you can do not on a court, not with other people, not with your coaches,” she said. 

The greatest challenge has been maintaining the connectedness that the team had always depended on in tough tournaments and practices — they need it now, for the pandemic. 

Woock feels the gap growing between training for self-improvement and the collective progress toward the team’s future goals. She admits, though, that it is difficult to prioritize her own progress. It is a fine balancing act to find motivation to train in lockdown. 

She commented that doing things over Zoom is not really the same as in person.

She also feels that her role on the team has gone from reproducing excitement to employing a more of a role model position. 

Woock is unsure of her future volleyball plans — it feels that it has become easier to prioritize school over volleyball; as practices get cancelled, academics remain a constant in her life.

The pandemic has transformed the excitement of Woock’s individual future and collective team purpose into a waiting game. As we have learned from this pandemic, tomorrow will be different from today, which is ultimately limiting the concept of future plans in sport for many athletes, including Woock.