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COVID-19 concerns wipe clean busy weekend slate for Whitworth athletics

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 4, 2021

Senior forward Miguel Lopez and the Whitworth Pirates are biding their time, waiting for the opportunity to resume their shortened season.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Senior forward Miguel Lopez and the Whitworth Pirates are biding their time, waiting for the opportunity to resume their shortened season. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

This weekend was scheduled to be a busy one for Whitworth athletics.

Not so anymore.

In accordance with COVID-19 health and safety protocols, contests for both Pirates basketball programs, both soccer teams and the volleyball squad – all scheduled against Whitman – have been postponed, the Whitworth athletic department announced Thursday.

That delays the season openers for the soccer and volleyball teams until at least next weekend and possibly longer; the men’s soccer team schedule shows postponements for Feb. 13 and 14 matches at Puget Sound.

The women’s basketball team has only played 1½ games this season. On Jan. 29, the Pirates defeated Pacific Lutheran 78-76. The following day, Whitworth led the Lutes 37-26 when the game was called off at halftime. Again, that was done in adherence to health and safety protocols.

Four of the Pirates’ earlier scheduled games were either canceled or postponed.

The men’s basketball team had been more fortunate. The first seven games on its schedule – plus two exhibition contests – were played as scheduled.

But their home games last weekend against PLU were postponed, as were this weekend’s against rival Whitman . They are hopeful to start up team activities and practices again on Monday, coach Damion Jablonski said, and are scheduled to host Puget Sound on Feb. 12 and 13.

Yet the basketball and volleyball teams were dealt another blow on Wednesday, when the NCAA announced that it was canceling its national championships for winter sports.

“While some institutions have been able to safely return to sport, the recent declaration form data show that more than half of our division has not returned to winter sport practice and competition to be in a position for NCAA national championship participation,” Fayneese Miller, chair of the D-III Presidents Council, said in a statement. “This was a very difficult decision to make, and we are saddened to do so. However, none of our winter sports meet the Championships Committee’s established thresholds of participation to hold a championship.”

The thresholds for basketball were set at 60%, but only 46% to 49% of D-III member schools planned to participate, according to the NCAA data Miller referenced.

It was a move athletics director Tim Demant said he anticipated, “but it’s always disappointing, whether you expect it or not.”

The Northwest Conference has nine member schools, but just the four based on Washington have played basketball games this season. The five Oregon schools have yet to play.

Without national championships to work around – and potentially no NWC postseason tournament, which hasn’t been scheduled – Demant and other NWC athletics directors could move to reschedule those postponed basketball games to March. As of now, Feb. 27 marks the end of the conference schedule.

But as more spring sports begin their seasons – those D-III championships are, as of now, still on – that squeezes Whitworth in terms of facility and staffing availability.

“One of the things we have to weigh is the impact of trying to make up (games) with all the other sports going on,” Demant said. “As much as the winter sports last year lost out opportunities, the spring sports lost even more. Spring sports got cut off at the beginning of their season, so we’ve made that a priority, that we give them as much of an experience as we can.”

Jablonski said he and the men’s basketball team are “ready and willing anytime” to make up the four postponed games, but he also understands the strain rescheduling could put on the entire department.

“We still have the (six) conference games on our schedule and hopefully the makeup games,” Jablonski said.

The football team is scheduled to open its four-game season at noon Feb. 13 at the Pine Bowl. The men’s and women’s basketball teams also have home games scheduled that evening, a short walk away at the Fieldhouse.

“We knew that everything was gonna be fluid this year,” Demant said, “and we have to respond to where we are currently.”

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