North Texas Volleyball Family Navigates Living in Separate Bubbles Due to Pandemic

Hector Gutierrez is the beach volleyball head coach at TCU and Katie Carter-Gutierrez is playing professionally in Dallas.

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A North Texas family that could be called the top volleyball family in the area is dealing with the challenges of living separately in two different COVID-19 protocol bubbles.

For the Gutierrez family, it’s a small price to pay for the game they love.

At TCU, head coach Hector Gutierrez has built the Horned Frogs beach volleyball program into a team ranked in the top 10 in the nation.

“It’s one of those years that feels like you’re super close,” Gutierrez said. “You just have to keep pushing all the way for what’s left and everyone is on the same page, which is great.”

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But while Gutierrez feels super close to his team, he is living away from his family. His wife, Katie Carter-Gutierrez, is a professional volleyball player in the Athletes Unlimited league currently competing in Dallas in a bubble that has strict guidelines on who can be around players or coaches.

“It hasn’t been easy, it’s been quite different, but we’ve made it work,” Carter-Gutierrez said. “It’s a short season, so we’re just trying to enjoy it.”

Carter-Gutierrez lives in the bubble away from her husband and takes care of the couple’s 18-month-old daughter.

“Not having my husband here, you really notice a big difference,” she said. “I do have a nanny who is available to me whenever I need her. But some mornings are tough because I’m with my daughter in the morning and maybe she wakes up at 5:30 a.m. that day, and then I have weights and practice after that or maybe a game. I’m just trying to be really flexible and use my time wisely. If I can catch a nap here or there I do.”

“I’m busy with the season and my wife is busy playing, so I guess good things and bad things,” Gutierrez said. “But of course I miss them, they miss me, but they have only a week and a half left, so they’ll be home soon.”

Gutierrez is able to visit his daughter once a week after he is tested for COVID-19. And though it has been a challenging few months, the couple agreed -- allowing Katie to return to playing pro volleyball after taking time away as a new mother has been a major success and the right choice, especially in the top-notch facilities Athletes Unlimited has provided.

“Some of us are used to playing overseas in not the greatest conditions,” Carter-Gutierrez said. “I’ve played in a gym before that had holes in the floor. Not that that’s the norm, but (Athletes Unlimited) really took it seriously, asked us what we needed, and gave it to us. It’s been really cool.”

“She’s doing a great job,” Gutierrez said. “Physically, she feels great. She’s enjoying being there and playing and training. They have to be in a bubble, so it’s not the ideal scenario for when you want to join a professional league. But what they’re doing, the organization is doing everything they can to keep them as happy and normal as possible.”

The Athletes Unlimited volleyball season runs through March 29. The TCU beach volleyball team's last regular-season game is April 17.

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