COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (April 23, 2020) – On March 8, U.S. outside hitter Aaron Russell played his final match of the 2019-20 season for his Italian club team Itas Trentino in an empty stadium.
Trentino, which was in fourth place in the league at 15-5, fell to league-leading Cucine Lube Civitanova in a tight match, 3-2. Russell finished with 19 points on 16 kills, two aces and one block.
“It was a big match for us and those matches always have full seats,” Russell, 26, remembered. “But it was kind of fun. It actually got more competitive. It reminded me of college. Our bench started getting into it and theirs did too.”
The next day, the government of Italy, under Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, imposed a national quarantine, restricting the movement of the population except for essential errands, in response to the growing pandemic of COVID-19 in the country.
Things changed overnight for Russell and his wife, Kendall.
“No restaurants were open at all,” Russell said. “You couldn’t get delivery. If you were out, you had to have papers that state your reasons for leaving house.”
The couple remained in Trentino until April 12, through the thick of the country’s fight against the pandemic. That day, they left for their home in Florida, where the couple is self-quarantining for two weeks.
It was a long trip. Normally they would have flown from Verona to Atlanta or Frankfurt and then to Orlando. But the only international flights out of the country are leaving from Rome. After their domestic flight from Verona to Rome was canceled, the couple got up at 1 a.m. to drive six hours to Rome.
They flew Rome to JFK, then to Atlanta and then to Orlando.
Russell said they chose to stay in Italy as long as they did because of uncertainty about what the league was going to do.
“There was still talk of the league starting up again,” Russell said. “They said they would pay us. I just figured we would stay put, see how it played out.
“They were saying they would make decision about the league on April 3. Then they kept pushing it back. Finally, they shut it down and we decided to go home.”
During his time in lockdown, Russell stayed in touch with family, friends and both of his teams via the internet.
“Our (Italian) team was still doing workouts on Zoom. The U.S. coaches and trainers were sending me workouts.”
Russell would do these workouts on his balcony in good weather and indoors when it rained because Italy is not allowing citizens to be outside of their homes for exercise.
Although they are back in the United States now, the couple’s appreciation for Italy is clear. Before they left, they paid for two weeks of lunches for the researchers of CIBIO (The Department of Cellular, Computational and Integrative Biology at the University of Trento, Italy), who are performing COVID-19 tests.
Now Russell and Kendall are self-isolating in Florida until they are sure they do not have COVID-19. If the Men’s National Team is able to train at the American Sports Centers in Anaheim, Calif., at some point this summer, Russell says he will go.
And yes, he is contracted to play in Italy next season, though not for the same team. But no one knows when the next season might start. Italy is still
Russell, who won a bronze medal with the team at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, is not upset about the postponement of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“I am pretty supportive of that,” Russell said. “It would be sad if they were canceled. The preparation for one more year shouldn’t be that bad.”