Och Tamale Summer 2021 - University of Redlands

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COCO MCKOWN ’04, ’10

“ It only takes one person to lose the game, and the same is true during the pandemic,” says Women’s Assistant Volleyball Coach Kierra Jones.

From coach to contact tracer By Katie Olson


n the early months of 2020, Bulldog Women’s Assistant Volleyball Coach Kierra Jones was in between athletic seasons. She spent her workdays reviewing video footage of past games, developing practice plans, and talking with recruited student-athletes. As she was gearing up for the spring season, news of the COVID-19 pandemic took over. While her routine was drastically changed, the pandemic would give her an opportunity to flex her skills and meet the community’s needs. When the pandemic was first announced in March of 2020, Jones felt that the spread of the novel coronavirus would be under control by that summer. After students were sent home and campus closed, the National Collegiate

Athletic Association (NCAA) announced that upcoming seasons and championships were canceled. “We had no idea what was going on, but our main priority was that our student-athletes were OK and were able to make it home safely,” she says.

Keeping the community safe The health and wellbeing of student-athletes weighed on Jones’s mind throughout the summer and into the fall, when the majority of assistant coaches were furloughed. But in January, the assistant coaches were asked to come back—with the added responsibility of joining the Student COVID-19 Case Team as case managers and contact tracers. Jones worked with other full-time assistant coaches for Redlands athletic teams:

bulldog athletics Breann Nelson (women’s soccer), Chris Hernandez (baseball), Dominic Lopez (track and field), Aaron De La Rosa (football), Cody Carlson (men’s soccer), Andrew Clarey (track and field), Joey Rodriguez (strength and conditioning), David Lord (football), and Cory Coombe (men’s basketball). The assistant coaches dedicated 20 or more hours a week to contact tracing duties. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the team used clear protocols to notify, interview, and advise the close contacts of patients with confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19. Jones conducted video calls and followups with the reporters, then checked on the contact every 48 to 72 hours throughout their quarantine. Having moved from the Midwest to assume her position at Redlands, Jones knows what it’s like to be alone in an unfamiliar place. “If a student sounds like they’re having a tough time, I call and text more frequently,” she says. “I try to be as comforting as possible while they’re in isolation.” Director of Athletics Jeff Martinez was impressed by his coaches, who took their new responsibilities in stride. “These coaches have become experts in COVID-19 management,” he says. “When their head coaches, staff members, or students have questions, they are able to answer them and move us forward.”

Leading by example Being a part of the Student COVID-19 Case Team has given Jones an optimistic outlook on the future; she’s also glad to be back on the volleyball court. In accordance with NCAA COVID-19 guidelines, she and Volleyball Head Coach Lisa Lindberg hosted spring practice on the U of R’s outdoor sand volleyball courts as the majority of the team returned to campus. Looking forward, Jones is eager for every team’s safe return to the league. While she knows that some of her favorite aspects of athletics—a full gym of cheering fans, a sweaty mid-game team huddle—might not return for a while, she finds solace in the commonality that exists between being both a coach and a contact tracer. “Just like we need teammates to win our games, we need everyone to wear a mask, wash their hands, and do their part,” she says. “It only takes one person to lose the game, and the same is true in the pandemic. We’re better together.” OT