Northwest women’s basketball was given an unwanted break from MIAA competition Jan. 5, when the team's schedule was halted due to COVID-19 protocols within the Bearcat program.
A matchup with Washburn, originally scheduled for Jan. 7 in Bearcat Arena, was moved to Feb. 16, and Northwest's Jan. 9 contest against Emporia State was moved to Jan. 19.
The Emporia game being rescheduled forces the Bearcats to tackle five games in nine days, beginning Jan. 14.
Northwest coach Austin Meyer has found postponements of MIAA play for his team have shown no clear advantage.
“The goal for us is to safely play as many games as we can this season. It’ll be hard to tell how it’ll help us,” Meyer said. “We’re going to be playing multiple weeks where we have three games. That can be hard when you’re playing teams that you’re only playing twice.”
Meyer and his staff also have to find time to scout upcoming opponents while worrying about games being played. The staff spends a lot of time together gathering film and scouting reports, but playing every two days limits the amount of information and film assembled.
The MIAA basketball season was uncertain until Oct. 1, 2020, when the MIAA CEO Council approved a 22-game, conference-only season. Coming into the season knowing nothing is guaranteed, Meyer isn’t worried about his team.
“I think going into this season, we all know there’s kind of an asterisk next to the year, with everyone getting their eligibility back. Every team is going to have a chance to have the exact same team next year,” Meyer said. “We just make the most of it, do what you can and try to get better every day.”
Practices take a toll when players are out due to COVID-19. Northwest has been limited to seven healthy players, which means the team cannot practice game-like scenarios and is not able to scrimmage five-on-five for drills.
When players are not allowed to gather for practice, the Northwest staff continues to push the girls to remain active in a controlled environment. Meyer will contact the team via text and send them in-home workouts to use with bands from the strength and conditioning coach.
To continue preparing for upcoming games, players are sent film through a website called Synergy. All athletes are able to view previous games and upcoming opponents, which Meyer believes keeps them engaged in basketball.
Bearcat senior guard Jaelyn Haggard was one of the players with COVID-19, having to stay quarantined before rejoining her teammates. For her, the struggle was remaining in a conditioned state.
“For me personally, most days were spent in bed resting or using the little energy I had going on walks, just so I could have some kind of exercise within those 10 days,” Haggard said. “Thankfully, our strength program sent us at-home workouts to stay in the best shape possible while we are quarantined.”
Northwest is ready to navigate the season through COVID-19, but the Bearcats know more postponements could limit them to finding a much needed groove.
“It really throws you out of your routine if it requires several days off in a row, especially when you’d typically be playing,” Haggard said. “However, we still have found ways to condition or shoot to stay active in the meantime.”
The recent postponement marks the second time the Northwest women have had to halt regular season play. To avoid more cancellations, the staff is pushing its players to stay six feet apart, wear their masks and follow other COVID-19 protocols.
Meyer, who came down with COVID-19 back in April, knows that even following strict protocols can result in coming in contact with someone who has the virus.
“I can speak for a guy that, early on, I didn’t go anywhere. I washed my hands 20 times a day; I did everything I could and I still got it,” Meyer said. “I think our kids have been really smart with it at the end of the day, you can’t 100% prevent it.”
To prepare for the onslaught of games coming up on the Northwest schedule, Meyer has turned to more individualized workouts for his players to avoid a mass gathering. Meyer is giving his team Sundays off after games to rest and having individual skill groups on Mondays to improve player development.
To participate in the MIAA tournament at the end of the season, a team must have a minimum of 11 games played in the regular season. With six games under its belt, Northwest believes it’s still on track to reach that minimum.
“I think we’ll get there,” Meyer said. “Honestly, if you told me at the beginning of the season that we’d get through the first half like we did, I might’ve said that would be tough to do.
When a postponement needs to be made, the Bearcat staff and Northwest administration work together to notify teams of the situation. The communication between coaches has gone smoothly, as both parties know cancellations are going to happen. Rescheduled games will likely take place on Tuesdays, as the MIAA doesn’t compete on these days.
“From an athletic training standpoint and administration standpoint, I think it’s crazy times for sure,” Meyer said. “At the end of the day, we’ve done it right as an institution. We’re doing what’s best safety-wise, and I’m proud of the way we’ve handled it.