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For Plevna Superintendent Nick Schumacher, the result Friday afternoon wasn’t nearly as important as being there.

Wearing a clear Plexiglas face shield, he was on the court as a volleyball program returned to the small school campus after a 35-year absence.

The era of COVID-19 already has made some changes to the sport in Montana, with the teams sitting on chairs spaced out along the sidelines and no longer switching sides after each set.

But, to Schumacher, the biggest change was the team wearing purple and gold with Cougars emblazoned on the shirts.

A year ago, the team didn’t exist.

If Plevna students were interested in playing volleyball, their only option was to be part of a co-op arrangement with Baker and play the sport wearing Spartan colors and name.

The process started over the winter when the superintendent said students approached the school about restarting a program at the school not seen in more than three decades.

The process moved forward in the spring, with the students and families helping to get the approval of the school board and hiring of a new volleyball coach, the superintendent explained.

The biggest hurdle may have been surviving a global pandemic which closed down on-site learning for all of the schools in Montana.

Schumacher was there Friday, watching Plevna battle Circle on the court.

Even though the Cougars were swept in three games, the superintendent still had a smile on his face. “It  is the first game in 35 years that Plevna has had in this gym,” he said after the contest ended. “It is an exciting way to start the school year, that is for sure.

“The girls have been working hard and they are going to get some upsets this year. On the varsity team, most of the upperclassmen have not played before. The freshmen, most of them have played with the co-op for the last few years.

“Otherwise, this is their (the team’s) first year of volleyball,” he added.

He admitted that COVID brought the new look to the sport. “The home team will stay on the same side the whole time. There are a lot of little rule changes, like how substitutions occur,” he said. “But, at the end of the day, it is still volleyball.”

The team will face Ekalaka for an away-and-home pair of contests starting Sept. 11 in Ekalaka, then returning home for a second meeting the following day.

People will need to check the district website to keep up-to-date on the schedule for the team, according to the superintendent.

Janae Phelps, the school’s physical education and health teacher, is on the sidelines as the head coach, with DaNae Wiseman as the assistant coach.

According to Phelps, the team is improving all the time. “I think we did a good job and it is great to have the program back,” she said. “We got our jitters out and I am excited to see the girls improve.

“Our girls have already made huge improvements,” the coach said. “We are still brand new. We’re getting there.”

The girls are excited to have the program back at Plevna, she added.

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