Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma had to tell his players Monday that practices would cease for 14 days, and games would be canceled, due to a positive COVID-19 test within the program.
Auriemma felt badly – even guilty – that this was happening to the Huskies, after all of their hard work, preparation and patience getting ready for the season. But athletes surprised him with their strength.
“They came back at me with ‘Coach, these things are out of our control. And we’ll come back from this and we’ll deal with it, and we’re going to be even better than we were before going into it,’” Auriemma said.
“So as far as kids being resilient. Yeah. They want this so bad but they understand, you know, there’s nothing we can do to prevent this. And there’s nothing we can do to, to avoid the circumstances, you know, the consequences of what happens when it when it strikes.”
The positive test was from someone in the “Tier 1” group, defined as players, coaches and staff that come into contact with the team, including athletic trainers, strength and conditioning coaches and academic advisors. Though he stopped short of identifying the person, Auriemma confirmed that only part of the group is in isolation for the next 14 days.
“Through contact tracing, and….the normal protocols, our coaching staff is not in a quarantine situation at this time,” he said. “Our team is, but our coaching staff is not. So I’m not in quarantine.”
The shutdown means that the Huskies had to cancel two games this weekend at the Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge, which they were set to host at Mohegan Sun. They will also cancel their Dec. 4 game against Louisville at the Jimmy V Women’s Classic.
UConn, ranked at No. 3 in preseason polls, is the most prominent program to be forced to pause activities due to positive testing, but the list is growing. The announcement cast a pall over the entire season, as it seems clear that the Huskies will not be the last team to be affected by a disease that appears all but out of control across much of the country.
The quarantine is mandated by the State of Connecticut Department of Health, which Auriemma supports. But he voiced concern that there is lack of consistency nationwide because each school makes their own rules according to state guidelines.
“I think everybody’s going to be in this, in this scenario, at some point, either already has been, is, or will be, you can just pretty much predict that”, Auriemma said. “So the one thing that I’ve been struggling with, in talking with my coaches, and other coaches around the country, there seems to be such a widespread and such disparity between how each conference, each part of the country, each state, chooses to handle any of these occurrences.”
During the summer and early fall, the team divided into “pods” of four players who lived and practiced together, led by the three juniors, Evina Westbrook, Christyn Williams, and Olivia Nelson-Ododa. The Huskies have six freshmen, two sophomores, and no seniors on the roster. The Tier One group will all be re-tested Wednesday and Friday.
“We’re going to wait and see what the results are, and if we get everything that we expect to get, we’ll start back on the court in our pods again,” Auriemma said.
He expressed regret over the shutdown, considering how careful players were.
“But these kids want this so bad that, I call it, ‘They’ve been held hostage.’ Since the end of July. They can’t go anywhere. They can’t talk to anybody. They can’t do anythingm” Auriemma said. “You know, and for a couple hours every day they’re allowed out to get some recess. It’s incredible what’s happened to them.”
“And yet they hang in there, and they don’t talk about them, “I’m done with this!’ They don’t. They just talk about ‘when’s our first game? When are we playing? When’s our next practice?’”
Every basketball fan hopes that everything will be fine, and we will have a season of games, and even a tournament at the end. But having several teams cancelling the first part of their season does not bode well for anything like a normal basketball year.
Louisville’s situation demonstrates the difficulty all teams face in keeping the NCAA season viable. Although the team has not announced any positive tests, Louisville will miss both their game against the Huskies and their home opener against Middle Tennessee, which also announced a shutdown period yesterday after a positive COVID test.
Other teams that have had to shutdown temporarily include Utah, Seton Hall, Illinois State, Wright State, UMass Lowell, Coastal Carolina, and Kent State, just to name a few. Teams that have canceled their seasons entirely include the entire Ivy League, Florida A&M, Bethune-Cookman and Cal State Northridge.
UConn expects to play its first game against Big East opponent Butler at home on Dec, 15.
Full practices are set to re-commence Dec. 8.