With a veteran nucleus expected to return, Josh Kitchen knows his Bayfield High School girls basketball team has the necessary tools to, at the very least, continue the program’s upward rebuild initially begun under predecessor Lana Killough, who inherited a basketball team hurting from an 0-20 output during the 2014-15 winter.
Killough’s first charges went 4-16 in 2015-16, then 6-14 in ’16-17, and Kitchen then guided BHS to marks of 7-15 in 2017-18, 7-13 in ’18-19, and then 9-13 last year, leaving with the plan to resume that rise following an offseason in which most of his players would likely participate in soccer or track and field during the spring of ’20 followed by volleyball in the fall.
Thanks to the still-rampant COVID-19 pandemic, none of that happened, meaning that most players last saw actual competition, in any sport, when Bayfield’s 2019-20 hoops season concluded with a 50-29 loss to Alamosa in the 3A Intermountain League District Tournament’s third-place game.
“It’s definitely mixed emotions. The girls want to play so bad, but I think there’s also a little disappointment that they’ve already lost some of their season,” Kitchen said, alluding to the Colorado High School Activities Association’s decision to re-postpone all Season B sports to a proposed starting practice date of Jan. 18, 2021, and a potential tipoff date of Jan 25. “And especially here; I feel our girls have worked hard for years, and to lose any games, it’s frustrating.”
CHSAA had originally postponed the season’s start to Jan. 4 for practice and Jan. 7 for games. But, the Monday after the fall football season concluded, those dates were pushed back to Jan. 25 for practice and Feb. 1 for games. However, CHSAA worked with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and secured variances to public health orders that will now allow practices to start Jan. 18 with games to begin a week later.
With all the back and forth all year from CHSAA and CDPHE, Ignacio High School girls basketball coach Justa Whitt had a feeling that Jan. 4 date would change.
“It was going to be inevitable we wouldn’t be able to start right now,” she said. “There’s just too much inconsistency, and we really don’t know what’s going to happen the next two months. Plus, we’ve had a change in our (national) political system. Who knows what’s going to happen with that, too?
“The virus, I do my best to try to ward against that, but certainly it’s a problem. And basketball is a contact sport.”
Basketball seasons have now been reduced to seven weeks. That will leave schedules filled mostly with league games. New Mexico, meanwhile, still has no plans to start school sanctioned sports, so Southwest Colorado teams won’t find easy travel opponents a few miles south like they do in most years.
“At least it gives us a chance to play,” Kitchen optimistically said. “Still, it’s really hard with limited gym time and a shortened season to work on getting in shape and playing basketball; it takes time. It’s always about the simple things, the basics: dribbling the ball in general, taking free-throw shots, making sure your form’s strong and being in shape.”
Ignacio, which thrives in the open court with a press defense forcing turnovers, will put an emphasis on conditioning in the early going.
“When I know how hard I have to make them run in order to get them in the shape that they need to be in, in order to be a winning team, all those factors play in,” said Whitt who, like Kitchen, will enter a fourth year helming her respective varsity, and whose Bobcats (18-6 last winter; lost 47-34 to Holyoke in the truncated Class 2A State Championships’ Great 8) had been slated to host Kitchen’s Wolverines for a Jan. 8 season-opener.
“With certain counties having different regulations, we’re honestly not sure who we’re going to play on which day,” admitted Kitchen, proud to again retain assistants Jamie Wursten and Nate Tate, plus volunteer aides Ethan Tate and Tiarra Christensen. “I think we’ll have a little clearer picture come mid-January, but whoever we play we’re going to play hard.
Again to be assisted by Travis Nanaeto and Lauren Moran plus a returning Trae Seibel, with Maria Rivera again on board as a volunteer aide, Whitt went so far as to say that if circumstances warrant, she’d be up for an even later restart.
“That’s one reason I’d feel better if CHSAA would just go ahead and bump everything back,” she said. “Try the spring sports in March because they’re outside stuff – volleyball, too – is going to be in March, but that’s little less a contact sport and I think could be more doable by that time. And if we have basketball after that, then we’re maybe into a season where we’re in a better spot, won’t have to have kids wearing masks while trying to play a sport.
“It’s really going to kind of depend on what’s going on with our world situation.”