TORRINGTON – On June 19, the National Junior College Athletic Association announced fall sports championships could begin practice and competition as planned in August.
Less than a month later, that is no longer the case because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Monday, the NJCAA released an updated plan of action which will affect fall and winter sports teams across the country, including Eastern Wyoming College.
“We are committed to getting our players here in the fall, getting them into classes, getting them working out and practicing whenever we can, based on the restrictions we have. We’ll do our part to keep them safe, as well,” EWC Athletic Director and women’s basketball coach Tom Andersen said. “We are 100 percent committed to do that. We expect our kids to be here in the fall semester. There are some practice times available, and we’ll get our season’s going after Christmas.”
Following recommendations from the NJCAA Presidential Advisory Council and the NJCAA Board of Regents, the NJCAA announced an adjusted plan of action for the upcoming 2020-21 academic year. Following the Board of Regents’ vote on Monday, a majority of competition will be moved to the spring semester – football, men’s and women’s soccer and volleyball.
“Our greatest focus is and always has been providing the best opportunities for our student-athletes,” Dr. Christopher Parker, NJCAA President and CEO said in the release. “Through a unified effort from our Presidential Advisory Council, the Board of Regents, and leadership staff, our most recent plan of action provides a path that keeps our student-athletes competing at the highest level with proper safety measures in place. As we move forward as an association, we will continue to provide opportunities for our student-athletes, coaches, and all those involved with the NJCAA to be safe and successful.”
Locally, the biggest impact will be on the Lady Lancer volleyball program.
Instead of starting in August and wrapping up the season in November, the team will now begin practice on Jan. 11, 2021 with the first competition date set for Jan. 29, running identical to the basketball season.
“The biggest challenge we will face is, scheduling our practice times with basketball having essentially the same exact season as us,” volleyball coach Dante Geoffrey said. “When we start in the fall and they start in the winter, there is a little bit of overlap, but it’s definitely doable. This will be doable as well, but it will take more forethought and communication and flexibility.”
But Geoffrey feels this is better than the alternative of starting the season and then gets canceled or not having a season at all.
He also stressed there are positives to this situation.
“We get a few months to train together before we compete, which is different than the two and a half or three weeks we’d get in a ‘normal’ season,” Geoffrey said.
The team will have a 60-day window in the fall to practice and conduct scrimmages. The Lady Lancers will be permitted to practice during the Aug. 15-Nov. 15 date range.
EWC plans to make the most of that opportunity.
“It’s very corny, but it was the way it made the most sense to me – we have to use those fall months to get better, better than they get better,” Geoffrey said.
All regular season, region and district championships will be completed by April 3 with the national tournament being held April 15-17.
The changes will also impact both Lancer basketball teams.
Practice begins Jan. 11 with games starting on Jan. 22. All regular season, region and district championships will be completed by April 10, and the national tournament is scheduled to be begin on April 19.
With the overlap in scheduling, it will create more challenges for the teams.
“It’s going to be a little hectic, gym-wise, with three sports going at the same time with our basketball teams and volleyball,” Andersen said. “Scheduling is something we are going to have to work on.”
However, he added it’s nice to have some time between now and then to work out those details.
“The nice thing, we don’t have to rush into it,” Andersen said. “We have time to put some consideration into that. There needs to be a lot of coordination between basketball and volleyball, as far as when you are playing, practicing and traveling. At least we’ll have some time to find solutions to those problems.”
Both basketball teams, much like volleyball, will be permitted 60 consecutive calendar days for practices and scrimmages.
The basketball teams window will be from Sept. 15-Dec. 15. The teams will be allowed to have five scrimmage dates in total for the year, with a maximum of two scrimmages in the spring.
Region IX is currently working on putting a game schedule together for both basketball and volleyball.
Meanwhile, the golf and rodeo teams are the least affected by the changes.
Due to the nature of the weather in this part of the country, Region IX splits its golf season up into two parts – fall and spring – even though the NJCAA golf season is recognized as a spring sport.
“It’s a little bit deceiving with golf,” EWC golf coach Zach Smith said. “In Region IX, because of weather we battle, we count fall and the spring in terms of both individual and team points, but the NJCAA in terms of rankings and how they do a lot of the player of the year stuff, they actually look at the spring season.”
As a result, Region IX has received permission to continue with the fall portion of its schedule as normal with the exception of a later starting date.
“We got the okay, and everything I’ve been told so far is, we can have our season as planned,” Smith said. “We are going to play unless everything falls apart, which clearly could happen.”
The Lancer golf tournament is scheduled for Cottonwood Golf Course for the second week of September.
Smith has been staying in contact with his players through text and email over the past few days in preparation for the season. He anticipates everyone arriving and getting started by Aug. 19.
“We are excited. Our guys are playing in tournaments all over,” Smith said. “I’m getting a lot of updates. I’m loving the updates, and it’s nice to hear the guys are not only practicing but playing.”
The Lancer rodeo teams, who compete under the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association as opposed to the NJCAA, is planning to have a few events this fall, according to coach Jake Clark.
The NIRA has left the decision whether to compete this fall to each region, and the Central Rocky Mountain Region wants to get its student-athletes in the rodeo arena, competing this fall.
“The regional coaches have been in contact with each other this summer,” Clark said. “Things change daily, but our plan is to have a fall season. We tentatively have three or four scheduled in September. We are hoping to know for sure in the next week or so.”
Those events would be held at outdoor venues.
“We feel these students need to compete, but we will have to follow all the guidelines,” Clark said. “We’ll do what we have to do.”