The Michigan women’s basketball team is no stranger to lengthy, midseason pauses in play. Already in their second such pause this season — the first due to COVID-19 concerns within the program — the current pause is due to the Michigan Athletic Department’s shutdown. Still, they aren’t alone as teams around the country have been forced into similar pauses.
The then-No. 22 Syracuse women’s basketball team faced a 28-day pause after a positive COVID-19 test was confirmed within the team on Dec. 27, the day before the Orange were set to face North Carolina. This positive test and the ensuing precautions taken by Syracuse and their opponents caused the team to postpone five games.
The Orange returned to action on Jan. 17 for the first time since Dec. 20 and cruised to an easy 99-64 win over Miami. With cancellations mounting around the ACC, Syracuse remained steadfast in their pursuit to return to their pre-shutdown form and successfully complete their season, even with limited practices. In their first game back, the Orange showed no rust and put together their best performance of the season.
During Syracuse’s pause, Virginia and Duke became the first Division-1 women’s basketball teams to cancel their entire seasons.
“I don’t think we should be playing right now,” Blue Devils coach Kara Lawson told reporters in December. “That’s my opinion on it.”
Despite two of the Orange’s biggest competition in the ACC cancelling their seasons, coach Quentin Hillsman said his team never discussed following suit.
Since its statement win on Jan. 17, Syracuse has hit the meat of its schedule, losing two games in a row before getting back in the win column. In losses against then-No. 1 Louisville and unranked Clemson, sluggish starts plagued the Orange. Although Syracuse ended their pause with a resounding win over the Hurricanes, the lack of practice time may have caught up to Syracuse.
The Washington women’s basketball team can relate to the Orange after it postponed five of their own games. The entire Huskie team, whether they subsequently tested positive or not, was forced into a 10-day quarantine on Jan. 6 due to positive tests and contact tracing.
“I felt bad for the kids,” Coach Jody Wynn said on her weekly radio show on Jan. 12. “They worked so hard. They’ve been trying to follow all the rules and we’ve done a really great job. Our girls are obedient.
“The sad part is, the girls – even the ones that didn’t test positive – can’t do skill workouts. They can’t do any kind of workouts whatsoever. … It’s going to take some time for us to get back into things.”
According to Wynn, the best part of quarantine for her players was taking their COVID-19 test every three days as it was the only time they were permitted to leave their homes.
False hope is a common theme throughout many programs that have had games continuously postponed throughout the season due to COVID-19 cases. As Washington experienced, a practice and film session in preparation for an upcoming game could be one of the last times a team will be together in person for an extended period.
Faced with another lengthy layoff of its own, the Wolverines can learn from the experiences of Syracuse and the Huskies. Even though there are currently no known active COVID-19 cases on the team, time off from practice has the potential to affect team communication and chemistry.
Currently ranked No. 13 and off to one of its best starts in program history, every practice, film session or team meeting Michigan misses has the chance to hurt it down the road. The Wolverines came into the season with the goal of winning the Big Ten Championship for the first time in team history.
This lofty goal remains within reach for the time being, but that all depends on when Michigan returns to action and how it will be affected by this pause — both physically and mentally.
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