Head Coach Terry Fowler
Photo | Scott Donaldson
The last time the South Alabama women’s basketball team took the court was Dec. 21. A lot has taken place since then, but not any games for the Jaguars, who have been sidelined by COVID-19 issues that have affected many players, coaches and others on the team.
The Jags hope to return to the court Thursday night in Monroe, Louisiana when they are scheduled to play a Sun Belt Conference game against Louisiana-Monroe at 6:30 p.m. If played, it will be the Jags’ first conference game of the year; their first four league games were canceled — at Appalachian State Dec. 30, at Coastal Carolina Jan. 1, vs. Texas-Arlington Jan. 6 and vs. Texas State Jan.8.
The Sun Belt office has declared all games in which one or both teams could not participate because of COVID-19 issues is regarded as a canceled game and will not be rescheduled. (The league requires a minimum of seven players available to play a league game.)
Heading into Thursday’s scheduled game at Monroe, South Alabama has a 6-7 record and will be missing three players because of injuries — two lost prior to the start of the season and another who will have season-ending surgery this week.
It’s been that kind of season thus far for the Jags, but according to head coach Terry Fowler, who was also sidelined by COVID-19 issues, this has been something players in recent seasons have had to deal with on a regular basis.
“For the most part the kids have been great,” Fowler said. “They are just trying to adapt. They’ve been living this since 2020 now. This group of college students, this is their reality now. Unless we have some major setbacks, we should be on the floor Thursday. Of course, we could be OK and then Monroe could have some issues. That’s where we’re at. … Games have been taken away again. So there is an appreciation for the opportunity to come back and get on the floor.”
Fowler noted a conference rule in which teams that do not play 80 percent of their league games will be reseeded for the Sun Belt Conference tournament. That places the Jags in a reseeding situation as the team has already had four cancellations.
The Jags are not alone.
“My personal belief is, and I’m probably speaking out of turn here, but I just think there are going to be more [canceled] games than [league officials] were anticipating, so I could see that number [80 percent] changing,” he said. “Who knows? Us and Little Rock have missed four, App State has missed three, Georgia State has missed three, Louisiana missed one. So I think you are going to see teams that miss games early, like us, and then you’re going to see teams miss games in the next two weeks. Then I think it will settle down toward the end of January.”
For South Alabama, the problems began after players and others returned to the school from Christmas break.
“When we came back from Christmas — everybody’s been all over the country — one player and two managers tested positive on the 26th,” Fowler said. “Then we tested again on the 28th and another player tested positive. We had worked out — no contact or anything — on the 26th and the 27th, just running up and down the floor, not a real practice. Then when the 28th happened, we said, ‘OK, we need to test everybody again.’ On the 29th, people started getting sick. Our strength coach tested positive on the 29th. I started getting sick on the 29th. When we tested on the 30th, all hell broke loose when the test results came back. It was [almost] everybody. We have 14 players and eight coaches with strength coaches, trainers, GAs [graduate assistants] and three managers, and 14 of the 25 people tested positive.”
Since that time and losing their first four league games, the Jags have slowly returned to health. All players and coaches and other personnel should be available for Thursday’s road game and Saturday’s home game at the Mitchell Center against Georgia Southern, a doubleheader with the men’s team. The women’s game starts at 2 p.m. and the men’s game — the Jags’ men’s team had to cancel last Saturday’s home game against Coastal Carolina because of COVID-19 issues within the team — is set for 4 p.m.
“We are starting to get players back slowly,” Fowler said. “Everybody is out of quarantine now — the last two just came out [on Friday]. So now people are just kind of — they have done their five days [of quarantine], except those last two, and now they’re just returning to play, which is another five days of conditioning and limited practices and building up more and more minutes.
“We’re really just trying to get back in shape. We need to pick up the intensity, but some kids can’t go for as long a time and they have to meet the protocols. … The last time we played was December 21 and that’s really the last time we did anything that really looks like basketball. Hopefully, we get on the court this week, because missing three weeks in a row would be tough. Now, it’s going to be ugly, just from a conditioning standpoint, because games are amplified. But we recognize that.”
Fowler said he, his staff and players recognize the season and how they go about their business has to be approached differently, too.
“We’re not going to go eat in restaurants anymore, everything will be takeout and we’ll go back to the hotel and eat in our rooms,” he said. “Everybody is back in masks now. We’ll kind of go back to where we were last year. Last year we were in a [Sun Belt] schedule where we played the same team on back-to-back days [Friday, Saturday], so [if there was an issue] it really only affected those two schools. Now we’re back to a normal schedule.
“We really played the entire fall part of our schedule with no issues. And then the Omicron variant comes in and we’re looking like last season and what happened last May.”
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