The Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team experienced a 21-day pause to their season due to contracting the virus when they returned to campus after going home for winter break.
While on campus last semester, the team had zero positive cases, but the team fouled out when they went home for winter break, Brandon Leimbach, director of athletics at FLC, said.
Some players on the basketball team tested positive after returning from winter break, causing the entire team to enter into quarantine, he said.
Due to this incident, the men’s basketball team experienced a 21-day pause in their season, Bob Pietrack, head men’s basketball coach, said.
Once their players got healthy, other teams that they were set to play came down with Covid-19 extending the pause on their season, Pietrack said.
The only thing that could have been done to prevent this pause was to prevent them from leaving for winter break and keep the players in the team bubble, Leimbach said.
“It was difficult when we heard the news but we stayed together through it,” Corey Seng, senior guard, said.
Behind the scenes, the athletic administration has been making decisions based on the well being of the student athletes at FLC, Leimbach said.
The players, coaches and trainers are being tested two times per week while having the players stay in their basketball bubble and follow the guidelines while on campus, Leimbach said.
“We’re in athletics, we’re competitive, we want to win every contest,”Leimbach said. “But at the end of the day, the students' health and welfare due to Covid is more important to me than putting our athletes in a situation where they can become sick.”
Even with taking all the necessary precautions, Covid-19 can still take things out of hand fast.
“You have to learn to be flexible,” Leimbach said.
During the team’s quarantine, there was not a lot the coaching staff could do to keep the team in their in-season mode, Pietrack said.
“While they’re in quarantine, you can’t really do anything. We just tried to keep them mentally fresh and motivated,” Pietrack said.
Although this was no small hiccup, the team returned to play Jan. 29 on their home court, Pietrack said.
The Skyhawks lost a hard fought battle against Colorado State University-Mesa, losing 72-74 with seconds left.
After, the Skyhawks started heating up, going on a 3-game winning streak until Feb. 8 against Colorado State University-Pueblo, losing 77-84.
“We’re just taking things day by day,” Pietrack said.
There have been plenty of changes to the season during this time such as the lack of fans, the bubble the team must stay in, and a schedule that is always subject to change, Pietrack said.
The environment these athletes are competing in isn't the only thing that has seen changes through these times, the players and coaches have also been forced to change and adapt, Pietrack said.
“If you handle it right, it makes you more grateful for the opportunity just to compete,” Pietrack said.
Covid-19 has not been easy on the players.
“The hardest thing for me is not knowing what’s going to happen.” Akuel Kot, sophomore forward and guard, said.
Before the interruption in the season, the Skyhawks had two wins and three losses under their belt.
“We’re not overly focused on the result as much as we are the process right now trying to get a little better each day,” said Pietrack.
There is not a lot of talk about winning or losing during this season, the team has just been focused and talking about playing the game the right way, Pietrack said.
Even with all the challenges the players are facing, there is some light.
According to the The National Collegiate Athletic Association, they have granted one extra year of eligibility for all fall and winter sports athletes.Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there are fewer games than in a regular season, without a pandemic giving the players fewer games than what they signed-up for when they became a college athlete.
This is the NCAA’s way to make up for the pandemic and the loss to seasons these teams are experiencing.
“The most challenging thing is losing games off the schedule,” Pietrack said.
Playing through the pandemic has made each game more valuable, Pietrack said.
Within the 21-day pause to the season, the Skyhawks missed out on playing their regularly scheduled conference games and brought about other challenges to mitigate during this season.
The games that were missed during the team’s quarantine have been scheduled to be made up outside the regularly scheduled conference games that were uninterrupted by the pause.
“It has been hard, but it sure beats sitting at home in quarantine,” Pietrack said, “Everytime we have an opportunity to play we are just thankful.”
Once the season picked back up for the team, they were set to play regularly scheduled conference games on Jan. 30 and Jan. 31 and then had to turn around and play three different makeup games in three different locations.
“It’s different, but we are enjoying the journey of it,” Pietrack said. “It is so much better than sitting at home watching everyone else play.”
The men’s basketball team has observed the most noticeable thing different this season is the lack of fans in the stands.
In a normal season, the Skyhawks would play for a crowd ranging from 500 to 2,000 people, Pietrack said.
“We are just playing for the love of the game,” Pietrack said.
The team has stayed close during this unusual season while staying in their bubble together, they practice together, and they support each other during this difficult time, Seng said.
The constant testing, lack of fans, team bubble, and following the CDC and campus guidelines are certainly some adaptations to the season that the team has had to accommodate, but as Pietrack put it, once the ball is tipped, it’s just basketball, he said.