TRINITY — Athletes across the state returned to play this week after an eight-month layoff, as the North Carolina High School Athletic Association saw its first action since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in March.

Volleyball in Trinity is already in full swing with rivalry games arriving early this year, including tonight’s clash between Wheatmore and Trinity scheduled for 6 p.m. The two teams are coming off a season in which they combined for more than 40 victories in 2019 and both qualified for the 2-A state playoffs.

Wheatmore has fallen a win shy of the state 2-A final in each of the last two seasons and has a longstanding tradition of dominating the PAC-6. The Warriors seek to remain unblemished for yet another season, but that quest begins tonight with the Bulldogs, who have historically provided the most challenging matches for Wheatmore.

The two schools will resume this heated rivalry in the midst of an unprecedented era of play. Last week, the NCHSAA Board of Directors determined that all participants in volleyball practices and contests must wear masks at all times. NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker addressed the mask mandate on a Zoom call Monday, saying the only exceptions include those with medical conditions.

“The mask mandate is the most effective tool we have to mitigate risk,” Tucker said. “We must all do our part.”

This mandate shed a light on what could possibly be the new normal for other sports this season. As basketball and other indoor sports await their turn, all eyes turn to the volleyball players to see how this chapter affects the next.

Regardless, in the near term, one thing remains clear.

“Anything that’s done indoors, they’ll have to wear the mask,” Tucker reiterated Monday.

After two weeks of practice, volleyball teams are providing entertainment inside high school gymnasiums in North Carolina for the first time since spring. In order to maintain this momentum, the NCHSAA is asking coaches, student-athletes and administrators for their continued vigilance and cooperation in making sure to properly maintain social distance and adhere to the mask mandate.

“All of us have been waiting for this day for eight long months, and we are looking forward to the start of competition in volleyball and cross country,” Tucker said. “We are excited to once again be able to provide competitive learning opportunities for student athletes under the NCHSAA umbrella in North Carolina.”

Staff writer Daniel Kennedy can be reached at 336-888-3578, or at dkennedy@atnonline.net.

Staff writer Daniel Kennedy can be reached at 336-888-3578, or at dkennedy@atnonline.net.