It has been over 10 months since Salisbury University has hosted athletic competition. That hiatus ends Wednesday.
The Salisbury University men’s basketball team takes on Virginia Wesleyan University in the first athletic event on campus since last March, when Salisbury University cancelled the 2020 Spring season.
SU was able to maintain a consistent positivity rate of approximately one percent throughout the fall semester. The university finished Fall 2020 as the only school in the University System of Maryland to continue offering in-person learning after Thanksgiving break.
Head men’s basketball coach Maurice Williams said having athletics this spring is a credit to the school’s success in navigating the pandemic.
“They have done an incredible job not only keeping us safe, but our campus safe,” Williams said. “What we were able to do in the fall was amazing.”
In addition to the return of Winter sports, SU currently plans for the return of all fall and spring sports during the spring semester as well.
An "attitude of gratitude"
On Dec. 2, the Coast-to-Coast Athletic Conference announced the cancellation of all conference-scheduled competitions for the fall 2020 and winter 2020-21 seasons but allowed individual institutions to schedule out-of-conference competitions that abided by local and state guidelines for their area.
As a result of this and the shortened season for many of SU’s varsity sports, the schedule for men’s basketball features just nine contests and is subject to change as the season progresses.
For a team that played 26 games last season, some may think this would come as a disappointment. Head coach Maurice Williams said the team is just grateful to return to the court.
“It’s about having an attitude of gratitude,” Williams said. “Every time we are able to put those jerseys on and be together, it’s special."
“Yes, we want to win. Yes, we want to compete and be the best we can be. But if we are not reflecting on the gift we have every single time we step on the court together, then we are truly missing what the 2020-21 pandemic has really done.”
Learning how to "W1N"
Williams is entering his second season at the helm of the program. After a 10-16 finish last season, the team looked to the 2020-21 campaign as an opportunity for growth.
Despite playing less than half of the games the team played last season, Williams said the team's message and purpose have not changed. It consists of a single word, with an unusual spelling: “W1N.”
“We replace the 'I' and put a one there … it means we want to get better, one day at a time,” Williams said. “That means as a basketball program, personally and outwardly in other relationships in our lives.”
Like college students across the country, the team has shifted some of their in-person meetings to Zoom.
Williams said one of the key points he stressed to the team was not being bogged down by the pandemic, but rather using it as an opportunity to get better.
“I think 2020 has been a year of uncomfortable stillness,” Williams said. “We want to use that stillness to improve, to grow in areas of our lives that we may have been ignoring for a while.”
Back on the court
The men’s basketball team will also have to adjust to playing in an empty stadium.
According to a news release, SU decided to have no spectators in Maggs Gymnasium out of an abundance of caution and in accordance with health and safety protocols. Williams said his players will have to find that motivation from within this season.
“We’re trying to teach our guys that the energy is not coming externally anymore, that’s really got to come from us,” Williams said. “It’s going to be the same challenge for anyone that plays against us, there really isn’t any more home court advantages.”
The team faces three of their five opponents two or more times. This includes two matchups with Virginia Wesleyan, two games against St. Mary’s and three contests against Lancaster Bible.
Williams said the schedule will be a new challenge for the team, but each team on the schedule will have their own set of obstacles to face.
“We obviously want to know what our opponents are able to do, but we also want to have the mindset that they have to stop us,” Williams said. “We aren’t an easy team to prepare for either.”
By NICK LEWIS
Staff photo by Brad Boardman.