Men’s basketball returns to action

Mitchell Roland, Editor-in-Chief

While its excitement in the first two games didn’t match the results in the box score, the CWU men’s basketball team was just relieved to be back out on the court this weekend.

Over the past year, the team had its season suspended, virtual workouts, social distanced practices and a lack of clarity when it could compete again. While it looked like the season would start on Feb. 12, that game was postponed after someone in the program tested positive for COVID-19.

The team returned to action on Feb. 19 and 20 against Seattle Pacific University (SPU). The first game was a tough four-point loss after it took a lead into halftime. The second game was not as close, as the team lost by 18.

Head coach Brandon Rinta said the realization that the team would be competing against another program came a couple of hours before tipoff. Rinta said his feelings before the game surprised him since he has been around the game of basketball his entire life.

“I wasn’t expecting to almost get emotional about the opportunity to play a game,” Rinta said. “Making plans, for any part of our lives over the past year, has almost been a pointless task.”

Harry Cavell (pictured) finished the first game of the season with 14 points on 4-14 shooting. He also had 4-6 from the charity stripe. (Jacob Thompson)

Rinta was impressed by the energy and effort the players had during their first game and said he could “see the excitement” of the team. Rinta attributed Saturday’s deficit to the fact that the team only practiced four times in an 18-day period.

“To get to play two games in 24 hours, it was great and we’re going to be better because of it. But it was tough on the legs the second night,” Rinta said. “You have to look at it with some perspective. With the limited amount of time we’ve had together, and the limited amount of time they’ve been on the court, I think that everybody’s keeping in perspective.”

Rinta said the adversity the team has faced over the past year has forged better relationships amongst the players and coaches.

“Maybe one of the most challenging parts of this year, is how we have all had to live,” Rinta said. “We have not been able to build that feeling of oneness that a team needs to be successful.”

With a lack of games, the last four months also allowed the team to work together “without the pressure of winning and losing games” Rinta said, which has allowed them to develop “a different, and in some ways deeper, relationship with each other.”

Rinta said with no championship game at the end, the games during this shortened season are about preparing the team and making them better for next year.

Athletic Director Dennis Francois said after the postponement of CWU’s first two games, it was “almost surreal” and a “milestone” to see the team on the court.

“Regardless of the outcome of the game, it was a victory for our athletic department, and all of the people who put in the time, energy and work over getting us to this point,” Francois said.

Francois said overall, the COVID-19 protocols put in place were successful in keeping both teams safe.

“I think things went very well in terms of how we operated within the confines of the [COVID-19] protocol,” Francois said. “There’s a few things of course we’re going to tweak after we’ve been through the drill.”

Photo courtesy of Jacob Thompson & Photo edited by Rebekah Blum

Parts of the protocol include socially distanced seats for players on the sidelines, a requirement for players and coaches to wear masks if not in the game and a lack of fan attendance. Francois said fans would be one more thing the department would need to monitor and account for, and an empty arena allows the focus to be on the game.

While coaches can briefly lower their mask to talk to a referee or player, they must mask up afterward. Francois said while he was prepared during the game to remind both sides to wear their masks, the issue didn’t arise.

“Coaches did a really good job, and our student-athletes did a good job, and there’s did as well,” Francois said. “I spoke with both coaching staffs prior and said, ‘one thing I’m going to be on you about, if anything, is keeping your mask up.’”

While COVID-19 protocols were followed during the games, rust from a yearlong break from the competition was evident. When the team traveled to Seattle to play SPU on Saturday, CWU’s uniforms stayed behind in Ellensburg. SPU accommodated their visitors, and the wildcats played the game in SPU’s alternate uniforms.

The men’s basketball team will return to action against Saint Martin’s University on Feb. 26 and 27, in what are currently the last two scheduled games for this season. The athletic department previously announced the team’s first two games of the season against Northwest Nazarene University, which were postponed, would be tentatively rescheduled for early March, though no dates have been announced.