Safety protocols add extra layer of challenge to WNBA training camps

Photo courtesy of the Chicago Sky.

WNBA training camp is often complicated by the overseas team commitments of some players, but COVID-19 safety protocols have added an extra winkle this year.

Every spring, playoff tournaments of Euroleague and other teams frequently stretch into the three-week WNBA camp window, delaying player arrival. This season, athletes who arrive must then be cleared before they are allowed to begin training, which can take several days.

A WNBA spokesperson said a player returning from overseas must report six negative results on samples collected on consecutive days to be cleared for group activities. If an athlete is fully vaccinated, she is required to report two negative results on samples collected on consecutive days to be allowed to join the team.

In this second week of training camp, each team is missing at least one player, and one is missing six. The situation has forced some teams to carry larger camp rosters than they normally would.

“We have to have extra players as far as reps are concerned, because (overworking) can get heavy on their legs, and we don’t want to risk injuries early,” Chicago Sky coach James Wade said.

Each team is allowed to have 15 in camp, and will choose to have the maximum 12 allowed by the final cut date, or opt for an 11-player roster. Wade said that due to salary cap issues, the Sky will go with 11.

“We will have good players that we will have to unfortunately release or waive…..we want to them to get other spots in the WNBA,” Wade said.

Cuts for Chicago and some other teams are imminent due to the personnel they are missing. Starters Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley, reserve Ruthy Hebard and first-round draft pick Shyla Heal will change things once they arrive in the Windy City. Wade said that for this reason, he always has mixed feelings during preseason.

“I hate this time of year – I love it and I hate it,” he said. “You love to start the season, and as time goes into training camp you have to tell players they’re not coming back, and you’ll keep an eye on them. It’s true, but it’s tough. This is their dream and it doesn’t end with me, but I’m a part of it, and it’s a tough call. I feel bad because I have to do that every year.”

Photo courtesy of the Seattle Storm.

The defending champion Seattle Storm still have All-Star starter Breanna Stewart, reserves Mercedes Russell and Epiphanny Prince, and new signees Katie Lou Samuelson, Kennedy Burke and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan in playoffs in Europe. Coach Dan Hughes said there is a possibility that multiple players wouldn’t be available in time for their May 15 season opener. General manager Talisa Rhea is beginning to look at worst-case-scenario remedies.

“It’s quite possible we could add players until they get here, but there’s issues with the salary cap, or maybe we would fall into a hardship situation,” Hughes said. “It’s too early to tell…..we have a lot of moving parts on our roster.”

The season tips off Friday, May 14.

Atlanta Dream

Not yet in camp: Tiffany Hayes, Yvonne Turner

Players currently on roster: 14

Chicago Sky

Not yet in camp: Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, Ruthy Hebard, Shyla Heal

Players currently on roster: 20

Connecticut Sun

Not yet in camp: Jonquel Jones, Jasmine Thomas, Briann January

Players currently on roster: 17

Dallas Wings

Not yet in camp: Arike Ogungbowale, Satou Sabally, Bella Alarie, Isabelle Harrison, Awak Kuier

Players currently on roster: 16

Indiana Fever

Not yet in camp: Julie Allemand, Bernadett Hatar

Players currently on roster: 16

Las Vegas Aces

Not yet in camp: Chelsea Gray in quarantine and testing period; Iliana Rupert due after Olympics

Players currently on roster: 13

Los Angeles Sparks

Not yet in camp: Maria Vadeeva, Arella Guirantes (clearing health and safety protocols)

Players currently on roster: 15

Minnesota Lynx

Not yet in camp: Kayla McBride, Napheesa Collier

Players currently on roster: 17

New York Liberty

Not yet in camp: Rebecca Allen, Kiah Stokes, Natasha Howard

Players currently on roster: 20

Phoenix Mercury

Not yet in camp: Megan Walker, Shey Peddy, Kia Vaughn

Players currently on roster: 18

Seattle Storm

Not yet in camp: Breanna Stewart, Mercedes Russell, Epiphanny Prince, Katie Lou Samuelson, Kennedy Burke, Mikiah Herbert Harrigan

Players currently on roster: 20

Washington Mystics

Not yet in camp: Myisha Hines-Allen, Kiara Leslie, Erica McCall

Players currently on roster: 18