by Caroline McCarthy & Maddie Mulkigian, Sports Editor & Contributor
Manhattan College volleyball coach Lora Sarich Egbert spends her mornings standing on the outskirts of Draddy Gymnasium, just beyond the entrance. From her perch, she shouts instructions through the doorway while her team practices on the court.
Egbert, the team’s only coach, isn’t allowed to step foot inside. She is unvaccinated, four players said, prohibiting her from entering the building. Some of the players would only speak under the condition of anonymity because they feared retribution.
New York City Executive Order 225 requires all people partaking in “indoor entertainment, recreation, dining and fitness” to be vaccinated against COVID-19. This order went into effect on Aug. 16, 2021, just 11 days before Manhattan’s first match of the season.
Though Manhattan College requires all students, faculty and staff to be fully vaccinated in order to be on campus, Egbert has been granted an exemption. Still, she is not allowed into the gymnasium. When asked about her vaccine status, Egbert wrote in an email, “My health information is private, and I am in compliance with Manhattan’s vaccine policy.”
The New York City order supersedes Manhattan’s regulations. On Sept. 20th, Manhattan athletic director Marianne
Reilly met with the players via Google Meet and informed them that Egbert was unvaccinated and wouldn’t be allowed to coach home games, senior setter Erin Prevo said. The Jaspers didn’t play their first home match until Oct. 2.
It has resulted in an increasing level of discord for the Jaspers. On the court, Manhattan is 2-14, with players saying the team is struggling to finish games and make the needed adjustments to beat other MAAC teams. Both wins came at Draddy, without Egbert on the sideline.
Off the court, meanwhile, the players are growing increasingly frustrated that they are playing for a team that effectively doesn’t have a full-time coach.
“It’s always frustrating when there’s lots of change during your season, but it gets especially frustrating when the team is getting inconsistent feedback,” Prevo said.
“Coach’s vaccination status has greatly affected our season and our team dynamic. There were three games in our preseason that had to be canceled/rescheduled, and we were completely left in the dark as to why.”
The Jaspers aren’t the only New York City team facing this issue. Kyrie Irving, the star point guard for the Brooklyn Nets, is barred from his home court at the Barclays Center because of his choice to remain unvaccinated. Nets general manager Sean Marks has said that Irving will not be permitted to join the team at any practices or games until he receives at least one dose of the vaccine.
Egbert’s vaccine status went largely unnoticed early in the Jaspers’ season because of the flood damage surrounding the court. While the gym was being evaluated the team often practiced outdoors on or near Manhattan’s campus. Other times, Manhattan would travel to the House of Sports in Ardsley, N.Y., where New York City’s vaccine mandate didn’t apply and Egbert was permitted indoors. According to Reilly, as the vaccine order came into effect, Fordham and St. Francis canceled their scheduled home volleyball games against the Jaspers.
In an email, Manhattan athletic director Marianne Reilly declined to discuss Egbert’s vaccine status, writing, “We do not publicly speak on personnel matters due to the privacy of the employee.”
“Manhattan College recognizes the medical and religious exemptions that have been given to any of its employees,” Reilly wrote, “The NYC Executive Order made it clear that those who were not vaccinated (even if you had an exemption or not) were not to be in certain locations, one of which was in our gymnasium.”
Earlier this month, Washington State fired its football coach, Nick Rolovich, because he chose to remain unvaccinated and had his request for a religious exemption from the school denied.
Reilly said that while she is “aware that other colleges and universities have taken steps regarding non-vaccinated employees,” Egbert is still officially Manhattan’s coach. “Coach Egbert’s employment is not for public discussion,” Reilly wrote.
Players say Egbert’s vaccine status has led to challenges during the season, with inconsistent practice accommodations making it hard to train for volleyball at the Division I level.
“It’s very difficult for her to be coaching from the open doors into the patio,” one player said. “She’s not even in the gym. It’s hard to create a high-intensity practice when you’re not even in the gym.”
Two substitute coaches have been recruited to oversee Manhattan’s home matches, while Egbert continues to coach on the road. Peter Volkert, a former Manhattan College volleyball coach, and Mauro Miletic have volunteered their time to the team with no compensation from the athletic department so that the team may continue competing at home. At the Jaspers’ most recent victory, a home match against Saint Peter’s, Egbert remained far from the action in a nearby classroom on Manhattan’s campus.
After a 30-minute meet-and-greet and a one-hour practice, Volkert led the team to win its first match of the season against the MAAC’s second-best team, Niagara. The Jaspers had lost their first seven matches up to that point.
Another player said Volkert’s attitude and encouragement lead the team to its win.
“He was very positive and focused on winning, which has never really been a goal of ours,” another player said. “It sounds funny, but our team goal is always to have fun, but he came in and made it very winning-oriented and our first win was with a different coach, after just meeting him.”
The Jaspers have dealt with problems that go beyond Egbert’s vaccine status. Within one seven-day period in mid-September, three players sustained injuries, two being serious knee injuries and one being a compound fracture of the hand. Earlier in the season, another devastating knee injury occurred. Multiple players said that without practice on a consistent surface, their bodies were not adequately prepared for the rigors of their Division I volleyball schedule.
Lisa Toscano, a kinesiology professor at Manhattan College, said that learning how to fall on a consistent surface and preparing your body to endure specific forces will help protect against injury during competition.
“You have to have strength training,” Toscano said. “You have to have a pre-season, in-season and post-season if you’re going to play at [the Division I] level.”
Ultimately, the team is left with several players on the Jaspers’ 15-woman roster being unavailable for games — and their coach barred from entering the gym at all.