Basketball has a different look in Maggs Physical Activities Center this year.
Salisbury University has implemented several new guidelines for the 2020-21 basketball season hoping to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
These measures appear to be working.
While both the men’s and women’s squads have seen their schedules adjusted mid-season, they are nearing the halfway mark on the year with no stoppages of play.
Dr. Gerry DiBartolo, Director of Athletics and Campus Recreation at SU, said he is impressed by how the athletics department and the entire campus have navigated the pandemic.
“Our student-athletes, our coaching staffs and our support staffs have done an outstanding job,” DiBartolo said. “I am really proud of all the work that people throughout the campus have done to make this one of the universities that says, ‘We are going to find a way to get it done.’”
The men’s basketball team has completed five of its eight scheduled games, while the women’s team has completed three of its nine remaining contests.
There are some new restrictions in place for games played inside Maggs Gymnasium.
For these competitions, fans are not allowed to attend the game in person. Instead, they can watch home games via live streams provided by the Sea Gull Sports Network.
This is a big change for some student-athletes.
Senior guard Johnny Fierstein said he misses the fans he would see in Maggs on game day.
“I was used to recognizing the faces in the crowd, looking out and seeing friends,” Fierstein said. “With the gym completely empty, the only sounds you really hear are the basketball and the music … you can pretty much hear everything that everybody is saying.”
Others said they enjoyed the familiarity of playing in their home gym, even without the fans.
Junior forward Kaylee Otlowski said playing without fans is different, but her team helps provide the missing noise.
“Honestly, it’s not that bad,” Otlowski said. “I miss the fans, I miss my mom and grandmother being in the stands, but our team creates that energy that we need.”
There are other protocols that the basketball teams have had to adjust to as well.
DiBartolo said that since the basketball teams are competing unmasked, they are required to be tested three times per week on nonconsecutive days.
Players and staff are also required to remain masked at all practices, in the locker rooms and at all times on gamedays other than warmups and when they are on the court.
During the game, the players on the sideline are masked and seated six feet apart to accommodate social distancing.
Anyone working the scorers table is required to wear both a mask and a face shield throughout the event.
There are also guidelines in place for away games. Players must be masked while on the buses and must eat outside of the bus when stopping for food.
Most of the opponents for the two teams are also playing with empty gyms. Fierstein said this has been a significant change for him as well.
“There is no away crowd, nobody getting into you or staring chants during free throws to throw you off,” Fierstein said. “It’s almost like a preseason scrimmage all the time.”
Despite the new rules in place, the players are thankful for the chance to take the floor.
Otlowski said she would happily follow the rules for as long as it takes if it means she gets to continue playing.
“I will wake up at 7:45 and swab my nose to get COVID tested … if that is what it takes for me to have a game tomorrow, then I’ll do it,” Otlowski said.
With just a handful of weeks remaining in the winter season, SU still plans to have a joined fall and spring season that goes through the rest of the Spring 2021 Semester.
DiBartolo said the school’s success in handling the winter season gives him hope in giving fall and spring teams a chance to compete this semester.
“We are hopeful that, if we can keep those numbers down, we should be able to get through without many interruptions for those fall and spring teams,” DiBartolo said.
“If our student-athletes continue to follow the protocols and stay safe … [then] I think we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks that we can play some games."
By NICK LEWIS
Photo courtesy of SU Sports Information.