Photos courtesy SHC – Spring Hill College’s men’s and women’s basketball teams.
Back in December, the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) announced it was suspending all winter and spring sports competitions and championships until March 2021. This response to the COVID-19 pandemic had a direct impact on Spring Hill College (SHC).
At that time, Badgers Athletic Director Joe Niland said the school would move forward with playing non-conference opponents in the spring. As announced in last week’s column, SHC has planned to get most of its sports teams on the field.
However, a glaring omission was the men’s and women’s basketball squads. Since many other schools had already been playing for months, it appeared the season might be lost.
As it turns out, SIAC schools were working behind the scenes to get their players back on the hardwood. SHC returned to the court for the first time last weekend against Miles College.
“The SIAC had voted to play the second weekend of January, but then the [university] presidents said it would not be a good idea until March 1,” Niland told Lagniappe. “The athletic directors then asked for reconsideration, because the COVID guidelines had been approved.
“We went back and asked the presidents if we could play conference teams, but as non-conference games. This had been a policy in the past. Once it was approved, we got our teams back practicing.”
Niland understands this will not be a full season. However, anything is better than not playing at all.
“It has been very tough on the kids,” Niland said. “They are very competitive. They have been playing basketball their whole lives.
“Our goal was to give them a chance to compete. It will be a little bit of a season, but they can build for next year.”
SHC women’s team
Karen McConico is entering her 10th season as the women’s coach at Spring Hill. She is ready to get back to action.
“We’ve always wanted to play,” she told Lagniappe. “It was a matter of the conference teams being in one accord. We did not get the official word until a couple of weeks ago.
“The players are excited. The way the world is going now, any beacon of light is appreciated. This has given them a new perspective on life and not just sports.”
McConico said she would have a mostly new team for this season. One senior she will count on is 5-foot-8 point guard Kate Hammond, who the coach described as an “all-around player.” A three-year letter winner, Hammond has recorded 153 points, 89 rebounds, 83 assists and five blocks in 52 games. She is a member of the SIAC Commissioner’s All-Academic Team.
Katie Krout, a 5-foot-11 post player, is ready to come into her own after playing as a reserve to all-conference star Tiffany Valentine. Krout, a senior with three varsity letters, has collected 654 points, 460 rebounds, 74 assists, 34 blocks and 26 steals in 78 games. She is also a member of the SIAC Commissioner’s All-Academic Team.
Lindi DeBilzan saw a lot of minutes as a freshman.
“She can shoot, can drive and is a great passer,” McConico said. The 5-foot-10 guard started 14 games while recording 88 rebounds, 88 assists, 10 blocks and 20 steals, plus averaging 4.5 points per game.
SHC men’s team
Craig Kennedy has been at the helm as the men’s coach at SHC for three years. However, he has been involved with college basketball for four decades.
“I originally thought we would start in mid-January, but then it got pushed back to March,” Kennedy told Lagniappe. “We have literally been working the last two weeks to put together a schedule. It has been very ad hoc, to say the least.”
However, that has not dulled the enthusiasm.
“All of our players are very excited,” he said. “We have a very competitive group of kids on the roster.”
Experience, though, will be lacking.
“We will be young,” Kennedy said. “We had three seniors opt out. It was a combination of COVID, injuries and just wanting to focus on school.”
The only veteran is 6-foot guard Christian Brandt, who started 20 games as a sophomore. Last year, he averaged 8.1 points and 3.2 rebounds per game, while picking up 41 assists, 28 steals and seven blocks.
“We are a team full of sophomores and freshmen,” Kennedy said. “This will be like a practice season in a lot of ways. You want to win every game, but this is a developmental season for our guys.”
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) announced any competition this academic year would not count against eligibility. These waivers will apply for all Spring Hill teams.
“There is still a possibility there could be a conference championship, but I doubt it because it would have to be in April,” Niland said. “Most seasons will end in February or the first of March. Then we would have to wait on the Division II nationals. I don’t think most teams would be interested by that time.”
Getting on the court is reward enough, he said.
“Just the fact we have the chance to compete and get some games in is so vital,” Kennedy added. “It is real important for the players.
“This is a great time for the coaches to teach and to get their teams better. Our student-athletes can get better and compete against someone beside themselves.”
The men’s team will host Tuskegee University Feb. 13 and 14. The final home games will be March 6 and 7 against Albany State University. Their first game was an exhibition at Troy University, one of the former coaching sites for Kennedy.
The women’s team will host Miles College Feb. 20 and 21. The remaining home games will be Feb. 27 and 28 against Tuskegee University.
The Spring Hill athletic department would like to remind fans that no spectators will be allowed at home athletic events during the spring semester in accordance with COVID-19 protocols.
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