A delay in play

COVID-19 related pauses running rampant in the MAAC

Riley Millette, Sports Editor

Consistency is a highly sought-after trait for athletes playing a college sport. However, in order for them to achieve that, it would help if their schedules were consistent as well.

Teams throughout the MAAC and ECAC Hockey, including Quinnipiac University, have had several games postponed or canceled due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Between all four winter sports teams, there have been 12 games on the schedule that were not played when initially planned.

The Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey team was stricken recently, as a game against the Long Island University Sharks was postponed because of COVID-19 issues in the LIU program. Therefore, the Bobcats went the weekend without playing a game, creating a 12-day spell between their away game on Jan. 24, against Clarkson and their home tilt on Friday against St. Lawrence.

Assistant coach Bill Rega noticed the fatigue in some of his guys during Friday’s game that he felt had something to do with the postponement the week prior.

“It shouldn’t have (affected the team’s stamina), but I think it probably did,” Rega said. “I thought there was some rust there. Some guys looked a little bit more tired than they did before. Some guys looked great tonight, some guys had jumps, some guys were ready to go and some guys looked like they were a little winded.”

Rega also acknowledged that if the LIU game went on as planned, the increased game reps might have created the same issue.

“It’s a little bit of a strange thing,” Rega said. “Like you play all these games and you think that’s gonna make you tired, and then you don’t play a game and you think, ‘Well, that made you tired.’ So you really can’t win, it’s a delicate balance.”

Junior forward Michael Lombardi said that even though the Bobcats didn’t get to play last weekend, they were still ready to get going when they had the chance to play.

“We stay pretty active on the weekends, whether it be coming in here getting a workout or getting right back on the ice,” Lombardi said. “Coach talks about handling adversity, and we were all ready for that game. It was just another piece of adversity for us.”

Lombardi’s teammate, sophomore forward Matthew Fawcett, argued that the break helped him, not hurt him. He said that the time off motivated him even more to get back on the ice.

“You’re definitely coming in a little hungrier, and we were excited to play because we had some time off,” Fawcett said. “So yeah, I think it definitely pushed us a little bit more, having that time off.”

On the other hand, the Quinnipiac women’s basketball team has remained relatively unscathed. Barring two cancellations at the Mohegan Sun tournament that happened before the start of the regular season, the team has played all the games on its schedule so far.

“I think we’ve been able to capitalize in practice,” junior guard Mackenzie DeWees said. “Until you get in those games, that’s when you really learn. I think for our rookies, that was very important these last couple games is getting them in and getting them reps. In practice you can really imitate it, but it’s not the same.”

Quinnipiac women’s basketball head coach Tricia Fabbri corroborated that being able to be on the court consistently is a major contributor to their success, as the team has ripped off six wins in their last seven games.

Graphic by Morgan Tencza

“It’s just so hitchy, so it’s hard to get into a lot of game flow,” Fabbri said. “You saw a difference from us today, just being able to play back-to-back games and a lot of minutes. Us staying healthy is obviously imperative because it gives us an opportunity to stay and practice as a team.”

But travel across the map and it’s an entirely different story. One of the teams in the MAAC that has felt the true wrath of the virus is the Niagara University women’s basketball team. It has yet to play three consecutive games without either a cancellation or postponement. Nine games were scratched. It’s now on its third pause.

The first pause for the Purple Eagles came right before the season started. The regular-season debut, which was a two-game weekend series against Saint Peter’s University, was postponed. The team was able to begin its season a week later against Iona College, picking up a win and a loss.

The second occurred three weeks later, following the team’s weekend sweep at the hands of the Marist Red Foxes, who were ranked No. 2 at the MAAC tournament in 2020.

“I think that takes a lot, because Iona had played a lot more games than us at that point,” Niagara women’s basketball head coach Jada Pierce said about the team’s first win of the season. “And then when we came out of that third quarantine into playing Marist, one of the top teams in the league, and to go to overtime, and we had a chance to actually win the game … I think that says a lot about this group.”

The third and final pause so far was announced on Jan. 27, postponing that weekend series against Monmouth University. The team has now resumed practicing and is set to return from the pause against Rider University on Feb. 12.

Pierce said one of the struggles of training over Zoom and individually is mixing up the drills. She didn’t want to bore her players and make the quarantine worse.

“You want to have it in the flow of playing because you don’t want it to be boring or monotonous and you don’t want them to hate what they’re doing,” Pierce said. “You want them to still love playing and having fun.”

Pierce said that although the several pauses definitely took a toll on her players, their spirits never wavered.

“They are still adamant about wanting to play, even with this last shutdown that we’re currently in right now,” Pierce said. “The first question they asked when we were talking to them that day we got the news was, ‘Do we get to make up the games that we lost? And when do we get to play again?’”

Even though pauses have eaten up most of the Purple Eagles’ season, Pierce is still confident that her team will come out stronger on the other side.

“I think with each one that we’ve been through, we’ve gotten stronger through it and the attitude has been not to just survive, but to thrive when coming out of these situations, and I think we’ve responded well.”

Looking forward, the MAAC tournament is on the horizon. Last year, the postseason was axed midway through because of the incoming COVID-19 wave that was overtaking the country. The Niagara Purple Eagles took down the Saint Peter’s Peacocks in the first round of the tournament. Pierce said that she thought having fans would be a big disadvantage, but there was another factor that offset that loss.

“Our bench has been tremendous during this whole time,” Pierce said. “They have been into it more than any other year. I hear them a lot when I’m pacing up and down the sideline. I can hear them screaming for their teammates and they’re hype after every timeout.”

But there is a major issue with the idea of the Purple Eagles making another statement at the tournament. The MAAC announced that in order to participate in the tournament, the team would have to play at least 13 regular season games. Niagara has only played four games this year, and only have eight games left on the schedule.

But Pierce said that the first game of the tournament counts as one. Therefore, the team would have to play all their remaining games to be eligible.

The Canisius Golden Griffins started the season 0-5 and have also had rampant pause problems, so they resulted in canceling their season. With major uncertainty around some teams pushing for a playoff berth with some teams already having opted out, the MAAC tournament may look a lot different this year in more ways than one.

But one thing is still guaranteed — the players who are there will be ready for the spotlight.

“I think they are excited to be a part of the tournament because the atmosphere is second to none,” Pierce said. “We had that experience and that excitement and the electricity.”