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With teammates gone and family a world away, USC student-athlete adjusts to solitary campus life

Her once-structured schedule turned upside down, USC volleyball player Aleksandra Gryka is settling into academic and athletic life amid the pandemic.

Aleksandra Gryka USC volleyball on campus covid-19
Aleksandra Gryka still meets with her team twice a week over Zoom, where they analyze game and practice film. (Photo/Alex Dunphy)

When USC announced that classes would move completely online in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Trojan volleyball player Aleksandra Gryka faced quite a dilemma: move nearly 6,000 miles back to her native Poland to be with her family or remain in Los Angeles to self-quarantine alone.

Despite being so far from family — and most of her teammates deciding to head home — Gryka stayed at USC. She is one of 200 students permitted to live at USC Village during this time.

“I’ve been alone since [spring recess] but I have other friends from Europe here, so we get together sometimes,” she said — adhering to social distancing guidelines, of course.

At first glance, her situation might seem surprising, but as she sat in her now-empty eight-person apartment, Gryka explained over Zoom why her decision was not as difficult as one might think.

“I called [my parents] and I said, ‘OK, we have to think about this, and I think it’s going to be better if I stay here,’” she said. “And they said, ‘We think it’s going to be better if you stay there, too.’”

Student-athlete sees on-campus routine disrupted during COVID-19

Though Gryka is only a freshman, she is 20 years old and has lived away from her family for around four years now. At 16, she left her hometown of Warsaw to attend a volleyball academy roughly 180 miles away. Though that doesn’t compare to the distance between Warsaw and L.A., Gryka said the experience acquainted both her and her parents with long distances apart.

“It was a good way to prepare me for this experience, especially with this coronavirus out there,” Gryka said. “When you cannot really just go out and see people, you have to just learn to be with yourself.”

When you cannot really just go out and see people, you have to just learn to be with yourself.

Aleksandra Gryka

Living independently might not have been an adjustment for Gryka, but not having places to be definitely has been a challenge. As a student-athlete taking a full schedule of classes, she typically has a pretty strict routine. Between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., she had a consistent combination of workouts, class, practice and studying. When classes and even workouts moved online, she no longer had the daily consistency of moving from one place to the other.

“I’ve been experiencing a lot of trouble sticking to my new routine,” she said. “I had a lot of things to do previously, but I also got much more done.”

Volleyball team adapts to new coach via Zoom, phone calls

Around the same time that USC announced all classes would be online for the remainder of the semester, the university also suspended all spring athletics. Though the indoor volleyball season is a fall sport, the team still had practices and workouts throughout the spring that have been replaced with Zoom meetings and individual workouts, all while the team is adjusting to a new coach.

In mid-February, USC hired Brad Keller, who started his coaching career as an assistant with the Trojans in 2007 but spent the last seven years with UCLA. Gryka said the new coach’s hiring was met with excitement, but the players only had about three weeks to adjust to his system before practices were canceled.

The team still meets twice a week over Zoom, where they analyze game and practice film as well as go over strategy, and Gryka said Keller calls her individually to check in throughout the week. If there is one silver lining to be had from this whole situation, she said, it’s how Keller has been able to keep the team together during this time and build a support system.

“Even though we’re not together, those are still the people that we can go to if we have a hard time or if we just want to talk to somebody,” she said. “Those actions are going to have a huge impact when we start to play and practice again.”

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With teammates gone and family a world away, USC student-athlete adjusts to solitary campus life

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