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Whitworth tips off athletics with Wednesday’s men’s basketball game

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 5, 2021

Whitworth guard Isaiah Hernandez and his Pirates are ready to return to the basketball court this week with two home games against College of Idaho and one game at Montana.  (COLIN MULVANY/The Spokesman-Review)
Whitworth guard Isaiah Hernandez and his Pirates are ready to return to the basketball court this week with two home games against College of Idaho and one game at Montana. (COLIN MULVANY/The Spokesman-Review)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

The schedules Whitworth recently released for its various sports are not perfect, Tim Demant was quick to admit.

Teams in high contact-risk sports like basketball and football will only play the other programs in Washington state. Nearly every competition scheduled is against familiar conference opponents.

But they are going to play – so long as COVID-19 testing allows – and for the Division III program’s athletic director, Demant, that’s a victory in itself.

“It’s not ideal. We’ll be playing each other quite a bit,” Demant said. “But it’s better than playing nobody.”

Playing nobody is what Whitworth has done since mid-March, minus the two exhibition games its men’s basketball team played just before Christmas.

The men’s basketball team starts its season officially Wednesday and Thursday, with back-to-back games against the College of Idaho, an NAIA program the Pirates haven’t faced since 1996. Games will start at 6 p.m. at the Fieldhouse. Fans will not be allowed.

After that, the Pirates are scheduled to visit Division I Montana in Missoula on Saturday before beginning their Northwest Conference season on Jan. 22.

That NWC slate includes four games each against Puget Sound, Pacific Lutheran and Whitman. The women’s basketball program will play the same conference schedule as the men’s team.

The football team is scheduled to start its season on Feb. 13 at home against Puget Sound, followed by a road game at Pacific Lutheran on Feb. 20. Since Whitman doesn’t have a football program, rematches against those programs later in March are the only contests scheduled for the football team.

There is hope that the conference’s four Oregon schools will be allowed to play against the Washington-based teams in high contact-risk sports later in the spring, but without that assurance Demant said the Pirates are focused on the games they do have on the schedule.

“We’re focused on the four (football) games,” Demant said. “Who knows what’ll happen after that?

“Football, it’s very much steeped in tradition, so playing once a year is the norm, but playing twice allows coaches to work on making adjustments. We want to use this year as a real development opportunity. Nobody’s really gonna care whether you’re 4-0. But the focus needs to be on development for the upcoming fall. That’s the one that’s really gonna matter.”

All those games are dependent on Whitworth and its opponents’ test results. Athletes in the three high contact-risk sports will be tested at least three times a week, Demant said, with the rapid antigen testing. Athletes in low- and medium-risk sports will be tested more on a surveillance basis, with up to 50% of the team being tested every two weeks.

Additionally, all on-campus students are being tested as they come back to campus, Demant said.

“We’re hoping to start with a clean slate,” he said.

As for low- and medium-risk sports – designations given by the NCAA – their schedules look much closer to normal as of now.

The baseball team, for example, has 32 games scheduled, with a four-game series against each of the other eight NWC teams starting on March 20. Last season, it had 37 scheduled games.

Nearly every team is scheduled to play during the next four months – minus cross country, whose members are almost all on the track and field roster – which is going to put a unique strain on Whitworth’s various fields, courts and pitches as all those teams conduct practices and, they hope, competitions.

“The biggest challenge for us is facilities,” Demant said.

Still, that there are any games scheduled at all is a positive, Demant said, and he has heard from many student-athletes who are excited to have the opportunity to compete again.

“It’ll be a really busy spring for us Demant said, “but we got into athletics for games, not practices.”

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