Todd Kress is the head coach of the Fairfield University women’s volleyball team, and this fall is his seventh consecutive season with the Stags. However, those seven seasons were not his first with Fairfield. He first coached for Fairfield from 1995-98, before a stretch of seasons at a few other schools. Kress has an impressive overall record of 459-297 (.607) in 24 seasons as a Division I head coach.
Q: How have your coaching tactics changed this semester compared to previous semesters?
A: I mean there really are not a whole lot of changes right now from a tactical standpoint. We talked a lot about doing the right thing in regards to wearing masks, socially distancing and trying to keep our bubble as tight as possible. In regards to our student-athletes, who do they allow into their rooms, trying to keep it just to their roommate or people that they know they’ve been in contact with already. If someone comes in from another floor or another dorm, we make sure that their mask is on when those people are in their room. It’s definitely hard to manage the COVID-19 part of it. From a tactical standpoint, it’s the fact that we’re not going as intensely in practice as we normally would. We’re trying to ease into it. The first couple of weeks we were going for only four hours a week and now we’re going eight hours per week, in regards to on-court training and that type of thing. We’re doing a lot more playing, as opposed to training. [I am] just allowing them to kind of get back into a groove and find their footing so to speak because it had been an extended period of time off. They had six months off. That’s a lot for an athlete and so normally you know the most amount of time off from being in the gym is maybe a month or two, and they had six. That’s a lot of time for them to kind of find their footing again and get their feet under them and be able to compete at a high level.
Q: What challenges have you faced coaching throughout this pandemic?
A: There are a ton of challenges. There are challenges in recruiting, challenges in our day-to-day lives and challenges in players’ headspaces, trying to keep them positive. There are challenges for every single person going through this in regards to how you manage it from a physical standpoint and how you manage it from a psychological standpoint. I think from a recruiting side, some of the challenges have led to opportunities. We do a lot more Zooms and we’ve definitely had the opportunity to get to know student-athletes through the recruiting process. I think that Zooms are probably something that are here to stay on the recruiting side; that’s been a benefit. I think some of the challenges from the physical side are, again, just making sure that we take a step-by-step process. [We are] being inclusive in what we’re doing in the weight room and training on the court, and making sure that our student-athletes are taken care of and that we’re not overdoing it, so to speak, to where we are dealing with injuries. We had a couple of injuries from last year that I would say probably have gotten a little worse because they have not been managed properly during COVID-19, which is really difficult when you don’t have training facilities available to you and that type of thing. There have been everyday challenges that we’re dealing with.
Q: How do you feel the team has coped with all of the changes made? Do you think the incoming first-years were welcomed in the same way they would have been in years past?
A: This team has been incredible in dealing with it. They are a resilient group and they just accepted the new normal, and that’s something I think everyone has to do in order to be productive and stay positive during this process. They just accepted it and moved on without skipping a beat. I mean they are definitely more resilient than I am, I can tell you that because they’re in the gym like, ‘okay it is what it is, let’s just keep moving forward and getting better.’ All the first-years have come in and not skipped a beat either. They are an incredible group not only as athletes, but as people. I mean they’re a great group of people and we’re happy to have them here. So I think overall as a team they’ve done a really nice job of just accepting the new normal and moving on. We have had challenges. Knock on wood we’ve had no positive cases within our program thus far, but we’ve had a couple in quarantine just through the contact tracing with regards to roommates and who they have been in contact with, but right now we feel pretty fortunate. Where I would say I can speak for the student-athletes is that they are fatigued a little more easily during the practices simply because the lack of conditioning and what COVID-19 has not allowed them to do, but we also talk about embracing that because you know we’re very fortunate that we are still practicing. Not a lot of teams are right now.
Q: Do you feel that your season should have proceeded as planned with restrictions or do you agree with the postponement?
A: I think it was 100 percent the right decision. I think that it gives us the opportunity to figure out how we’re going to manage the new normal, testing, travel and the combination of testing and travel at the same time. What protocols would need to be in place for us to be able to take the court and have both sides of the net healthy and putting no one at risk whether it’s coaching staff, an official or a student-athlete? I think it was necessary in all regards to adjust for the health and safety of everyone involved…I’m also confident that come spring, when we start again in January and February, we will have protocol in place that will allow us to do this at a pretty high-level and hopefully without too much concern in regards to health reasons. We will have this under control a little more.
Q: Any news on if you will have a season? What are you expecting?
A: We expect 100 percent that we’re going to have our championship segment in the spring based on what’s going on right now. Volleyball is being played. I mean there are programs in the south playing the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big 12…I just watched a match last night between West Virginia [University] and Kansas State [University] that went five sets, and everyone on the bench was wearing masks and socially distanced, but the match took place. So I 100 percent expect us to have a season. Right now the plan from the National Collegiate Athletic Association, that has been approved by the Board of Governors, is that we will be starting somewhere at the end of January or the beginning of February. Again, that’s open to each university making the decision as to what their start date will be. You can start practice anytime before Jan. 22 (the first competition date) to get your student-athletes in shape and ready for the season. The end date has to be by April 3, with a NCAA selection date of April 4 and then the championship will be held April 23-25. Those few weeks in between will be first, second, third and fourth rounds, with the final four from April 23-25 with a 48-team field as opposed to 64. I fully expect the season to take place. I think that sports are finding a way to happen on all fronts, both professionally and collegiately, and like I said, I’m just glad that we were a conference adopted out of the fall that waited to play until the spring because I would not have liked to have dealt with the challenges that some of these other programs are facing that are playing in the fall. I’m glad that we took to the safe decision by waiting and navigating through it come spring.