Women’s basketball battles with uncertainty

The pandemic has altered the trajectory of the lady Trojans program, as they look to rebound from a lost year

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Skyline Athletics Department

Women’s basketball players high five during a 2019 regular-season game.

The COVID-19 pandemic has constructed roadblocks for women’s basketball programs across the country, with Skyline’s program being no exception. While Division 1 schools were able to eventually return to play, Skyline and other community colleges weren’t so lucky, as their seasons were canceled entirely.

Besides losing their season, the team faced a barrage of uncertainties in the fall, including questions as to whether or not they’d even be able to return to the gym facility, considering the virus’ ability to spread more effectively indoors. Even Head Coach Christopher Watters was unsure of the program’s path back to play during a time in which the team would typically be preparing for the preseason.

“It definitely left us hanging in terms of planning how we wanted to approach the season,” Watters said. “We typically condition in the summer and then get on the court early in the fall. Everything was put on hold this year, and the most difficult part was that there was no real certainty as to when we could return to normal activities.”

The timing of the pandemic was especially poor for Watters and the players, as they were coming off a strong 2019 campaign in which they went 8-2 in conference play and 19-10 overall. With the uncertainty beginning to build, Watters admired his athletes’ resilience, highlighting their focus on what lies ahead in a pandemic-free world.

One such athlete is sophomore guard Emilia Dougherty, who averaged 7.8 points per game in 2019. Dougherty was one of the few players not to opt out of playing this year despite the cancellation of the 2020 season. Dougherty, who plans to transfer to UC Berkeley next fall, applauded Watters’ perseverance through the challenges brought on by the pandemic.

“(Watters) has done a wonderful job getting things going for us, whether it’s Zoom workouts, working out on the track as things open up, and then once we got back into the gym it’s been going pretty good,” Doughtery said. “He’s been very supportive, and very communicative with us about what’s going on at the district level in regards to whether or not we can play. He’s done more than a great job of helping us get better.”

While a return to practice has been a huge step in the right direction towards next season, players found it hard to build chemistry with incoming freshmen over a computer screen during the fall. However, in contrast to what it would have been like for them during previous years, incoming freshmen were not only adapting to playing at the college level, but were dealing with a global pandemic, making it much harder to focus on basketball.

“We didn’t really have too many committed incoming freshmen,” Dougherty said. “We had a lot of freshmen who did want to play basketball, but due to the pandemic, they weren’t always able to make it. A lot of them had to help their families, and even work jobs to help support their family. We didn’t really get a chance to connect with them, whether that was over the phone or at Zoom meetings. It was sad we didn’t get to connect with them as much.”

Despite the challenges involved with recruiting during the pandemic, Watters believes that having to switch his approach will allow him to become a better recruiter overall.

“I think we have an opportunity to use the present circumstances to become stronger,” Watters said. “Coaches have had to build strong connections with their recruits to help them work through the difficulties they have faced this year in high school. I think that will translate to stronger programs at the college.”

With the tides of the pandemic beginning to turn and vaccination rates continuing to rise, there are many reasons to be hopeful of the program’s future. Throughout the pandemic, Watters has emphasized a focus on the future, and looks forward to possibilities of next fall.

“I think this year has really put things into perspective,” Watters said. “It’s helped me reflect on my coaching style and my connection with the team, and how I want to improve in both areas to provide the best possible experience for the players in our program.”