Three days before Thanksgiving, the COVID-19 pandemic dished out another thankless task to Gonzaga women’s basketball coach Lisa Fortier.
On Monday morning, she had to tell her players that because of soaring coronavirus numbers in South Dakota, there would be no fans allowed at the inaugural Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic this weekend in Sioux Falls.
The 21st-ranked Zags are scheduled to open the COVID-shortened season Saturday against Oklahoma. They will play South Dakota on Sunday and top-ranked South Carolina on Monday.
For the players’ families, that meant no loved ones in attendance at games, not even a hug outside the Sanford Pentagon arena.
For players whose loved ones had planned to make the season-opening trip, that was devastating news.
“My family was going to be there,” said Melody Kempton, a junior from Post Falls. “Not anymore.”
At least Kempton will get to spend Thanksgiving at home before flying to South Dakota on Friday. Most of the others will get a catered meal on campus, Fortier said.
In a normal year, out-of-towners would have dined at the Fortier home.
“But we’re not allowed to do that this year,” Fortier said.
COVID numbers are much worse in South Dakota than they are in Spokane. As of Monday, nearly one in 10 residents has tested positive at some point this year.
Only neighboring North Dakota has worse numbers, prompting tournament organizers to further button things up with an announcement Monday morning.
“The situation involving COVID-19 continues to change, and at this point the safest thing we can do for the fans is to allow them to watch the Sanford Pentagon games from home,” said Dr. Jeremy Cauwels, senior vice president of clinic quality at Sanford Health.
“We realize that many people who were planning to make the trip to Sioux Falls will be disappointed, but we believe this is the right decision for all involved,” Cauwels said.
The Sanford Pentagon also will host an 8-team men’s tournament, which begins on Wednesday.
Last week, the tournament was the subject of a news story last weekend in the Wall Street Journal which questioned the wisdom of even holding the tournament.
The headline read: “A college basketball tournament needed a safe home. It moved to a COVID hot spot.”
Tournament organizers stressed that they will emulate the successful NBA “bubble.”
Among the precautions:
– All members of each team’s traveling party must have a negative COVID-19 test within two days of traveling to Sioux Falls.
– Each member will be tested immediately upon arrival in Sioux Falls, 24 hours before their first competition and once more before the final day of play.
– All members will enter the building using a separate entrance and will only have access to the lower level of the facility.
– All members will remain in a controlled environment throughout their stay. If any member of the traveling party tests positive for COVID-19, the team will be removed from the event.
Fortier is confident that organizers and GU will do everything to keep players and staff safe.
“The protocols that they have set forward are very strict and very specific,” she said.
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