In a normal world, under normal circumstances, Megan Fergus would be set to make her Marist Volleyball assistant coaching debut at a pre-season tournament. The players would endure some of the most intense three-and-a-half-hour practices of the summer, knowing that the season they have trained so hard for is within their grasp.
Sadly, these are not normal times. There is no 2020 season. The McCann Center, usually abuzz with the sounds of different practices, lies quiet and desolate. There is hardly anything to report these days, which is why Fergus’s hiring stands out as a bright flash of light.
Fergus needs no introduction to anyone familiar with Marist Volleyball. In her four years as a player (2016-19), she struck – or more fittingly, spiked – fear into opponents’ hearts. Her 1,244 career kills are third in program history and she was a perennial member of the MAAC All-Academic team. With her eligibility used up, but one more year left on campus, a transition to the sideline seemed natural.
“I couldn’t imagine being here and not being part of the program,” Fergus said. “I reached out to Coach (Byron) to see if he had any room. Luckily he did, now here I am.”
Fergus is a welcome addition to second-year coach Sean Byron’s staff. Byron guided Marist to a 12-6 MAAC record in the 2019 season and has coaching experience at larger schools like Michigan, West Virginia, and Ohio State. He expects Fergus to bridge the gap between past and present in the program.
“Megan understands where the program was four years ago when she was a freshman and where she left it last year,” Byron said. “She certainly commands a voice in the locker room and a voice on the court. I know she will be a great resource for the kids.”
Fergus’s father, Ethan, took an assistant coaching position for the Marist Swimming & Diving team in 2018. For much of high school, Megan envisioned herself going to school somewhere far away from nearby Millbrook. Now she finds herself in her alma mater’s athletic department alongside her father, no more than half-an-hour away from home.
“I like to think he followed in my footsteps, not the other way around,” Fergus beamed. “It’s been great having him around and at the same time, we each paved our separate paths at Marist. I am proud to be his daughter.”
Fergus knows she is in a unique position as a coach fresh out of school. She believes her experience as captain of the squad in her senior year has prepared her for the new role. The former outside hitter has not lost the desire to get back on the court, either.
“I think it will be pretty similar to last year because I think I will still be a bridge between the players and the coaching staff,” Fergus explained. “I think I can be someone the girls can come to when they want to talk about school, volleyball, or balancing them. I also want to get out there and play and still prove I haven’t lost my competitive spirit.”
Both Fergus and Byron expressed disappointment, but not necessarily with surprise, at the cancelation of fall sports.
“Following the climate throughout June, July, and even early August, it was not the nasty shock it was for spring athletes,” Byron said. “I think we anticipated it was coming, and we talked to the kids about controlling what we can control and just being ready for whenever the green light comes.”
There is still a glimmer of hope for having a spring season. Byron is involved with a few committees that have discussed anywhere from a six to 14-week season. He feels optimistic about the improvements he saw in the team last spring and is bullish about the team’s large freshman class.
“We have got six freshmen out 15 players,” Byron continued. “That’s a big percentage of new players, but I am really pleased with their ability to play volleyball. Hopefully, we can do some training this fall and be ready for the spring.”
It appears the team will be back in the gym in some capacity this fall. The medical staff has the responsibility of slowly preparing the team until they are ready to return to volleyball-related activity. Phase one is already underway with player physicals and testing. The next step constitutes players being divided into four-person pods indicative of their class year and where they live on campus. The first few weeks of training will likely be strictly physical.
“My 16-year-old daughter said, ‘I hope they like doing burpees.” Byron quipped. “It will be a lot of conditioning, and then, if everything goes well, we may start combining the pods and getting a ball involved.”
Progress will take some time. Traditional six-on-six practices are likely not an option. COVID-19’s trail of destruction has left nothing untouched at the collegiate level. Games have been canceled, practice is near impossible, and recruiting is something of a crapshoot.
The coaching staff can no longer travel to tournaments to scout recruits. The only way to see recruits play is through practice sessions recorded by parents or coaches, which often leaves the Marist coaching staff with mild cases of whiplash and no real idea of how prospective recruits are performing.
As for Megan Fergus, she is trying to learn what she can in these uncertain times. She knows these are trying times that test even the most steadfast among us. Through it all, her main goal remains the same it was during her playing days. The question does not need asking. Everyone knows what her answer is: “A MAAC Championship ring.”
Edited by Sam DiGiovanni