Minnesota Duluth women’s basketball coach Mandy Pearson said Wednesday the cancelation of Sunday’s game at Winona State just hours before tip-off gave her flashbacks to March, when the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the NCAA Division II women’s basketball tournament.
The Bulldogs basketball teams both played the Warriors on Saturday — the women in Winona and men in Duluth — only to receive a call the next day informing them Sunday’s games were canceled due to positive COVID-19 test results in the Warriors' men’s and women’s programs.
Both Pearson and men’s basketball coach Justin Wieck said they and their players were prepared for games getting canceled or postponed this year, having seen it happen everywhere else where college sports was being played during the pandemic. But for a cancellation to come 24 hours after playing the Warriors, that caught them all off-guard.
“Everybody was a little bit surprised because it went so well on Saturday,” Pearson said. “(The Winona State) administration is doing a great job. They are following the protocols, they’re doing the three tests a week. We just thought we were going to be fine.”
As of Wednesday, Pearson’s team was still scheduled to play this weekend at home against Minot State. Tip off is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Friday and 2 p.m. on Saturday at Romano Gymnasium, minus any spectators.
Pearson said doctors at UMD and a nurse from Winona State immediately on Sunday began working together to determine the extent of the exposure for both programs while coaches reviewed film of Saturday’s games to conduct contact tracing.
The UMD women are only without a few players at the moment due to possible exposure. The team is still holding practices, though they have looked much different the past few days compared to last week, Pearson said.
The Bulldogs men’s games at Minot State were canceled this weekend. Because the Warriors who tested positive played significant minutes in the game, Wieck said the majority of his team is currently undergoing a 10-day quarantine as they await test results. The Jan. 15-16 games against University of Mary at Romano Gymnasium are still on at the moment.
For now, Wieck said the team has turned back the clock to this fall. They are back to Zoom workouts and finding other ways to get creative while quarantined.
“We can control what we can control,” Wieck said. “Our guys are always going to be safe, that’s No. 1. Hopefully none of our guys end up getting it. We’re going to take these 10 days to make sure we’re doing it right and make sure everybody is healthy before we get back on the floor.”
Both the men’s and women’s basketball players returned to campus prior to Christmas so they could properly quarantine for seven days and test negative for the virus twice prior practicing together and playing against Winona State, per the guidelines set forth by the NCAA Sports Science Institute and state of Minnesota for college athletics. The men returned to campus on Dec. 22 and the women on Dec. 24.
Wieck said doing everything right, only to have your season put on pause after one game stings. It hurts, but the Bulldogs also understand there are bigger things happening in the world right now than basketball, the coach said.
“We took our resocialization back from winter break very seriously," Wieck said. “It’s not fun to be sitting in your dorm room on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day. That was tough on our guys, honestly, but it was what they wanted to sacrifice to be able to play. But it takes a lot of different people to do the right thing to make it happen.”
UMD women’s hockey on track for return
The UMD women’s hockey program — which returned from its holiday break on Dec. 26 — had its first series of 2021 against Minnesota on Jan. 4-5 in Minneapolis postponed after a combination of injury and illnesses prevented the Bulldogs from having the minimum number of players required to play the games.
Citing privacy concerns, the UMD athletic department won’t confirm whether positive COVID-19 test results played any role in the postponement.
Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell said Wednesday her team is still short of the WCHA’s minimum requirement of 15 players to play a game, however, the program is on track to resume its season again Jan. 15-16 against Ohio State at Amsoil Arena.
UMD has been able to practice the entire time since returning from break, and after initially practicing in small groups last week, the team returned to practicing as one group this week.
As a coach, Crowell said she was actually enjoying the small groups.
“I think the cool part about the small groups, the really small groups is just the ability to have so much interaction with the players,” Crowell said. “Normally, you're on the ice with so many and you're sort of organizing things and running through drills. But when we have small groups, you can work on different things that we never would do like skating deception and puck handling deception. (Assistant coach Ashleigh Brykaliuk) is fantastic at demoing and leading those things. And I can talk to the kids just a lot more. So I liked it. I think it was fun. I think they got a lot out of it, and every couple days we gain more numbers. So that's fun.”