Daniel Akin sat out most of his sophomore year of basketball due to a torn meniscus. When the pandemic hit last spring, he worried his senior season would be lost, as well. So, when he found out the Retrievers would play a 2020 – 21 season after all, Akin was thrilled.
“It means a lot to be able to play this year because of the initial suspense of not knowing whether we were even going to have a season,” says Akin, a senior sociology major.
Thanks to diligent, strict adherence to COVID testing guidelines, and a supportive community, both Retriever basketball teams plan to return to play this winter.
Although current state guidelines will prevent fans from attending the games to start the campaign, coaches and players alike are excited to make Retriever Nation proud from afar.
Preparing for a unique season
“This season comes with so many obstacles, but we’re ready for the highs and lows,” says Johnetta Hayes, UMBC Women’s Basketball head coach. “We’ve decided to attack this newfound, temporary way of gameplay with a positive attitude and open mind.”
So, what exactly does prepping for a season amidst a global pandemic look like? Structured. And a little bit weird. After returning to campus, players adhered to a six-week resocialization plan where they were sequestered into pods and began the process of reacclimating to training.
“The prep this season has been completely different,” says Akin. “We didn’t have summer workouts, so we had less time to get ready for the season.”
Jen Gast ‘21, psychology, a forward on the women’s team, shares, “We work out and then have to leave the gym. We do film over Zoom and other things as a team as much as we can to make it so we are closer on the court.”
Keeping up with safety protocols
With an emphasis on curtailing the possibility of injury, players continued training and ultimately transitioned to team play. While returning to full court seems normal, all COVID-19 policies had to be strictly followed. This included sanitation protocols, weekly COVID testing for anyone involved in play, no shared spaces among other sports, and vigilant symptom monitoring, among other safety precautions.
“I am extremely proud of our student-athletes and their resiliency and adherence to our protocols during these challenging times. Our safety protocols are only effective if they are respected and adhered to,” says Stacy Carone, associate athletic director, sports medicine. “Our sports medicine team built solid protocols, but our student-athletes are the stars of this show.”
“I would say I was hesitant at first as to how it was going to work with wearing masks during playing and all of the other needed safety precautions, but Athletics is doing a good job making this transition easy and doable,” says Gast.
Retriever Nation cheers from afar
In accordance with America East and NCAA policies, this year is going to look a little different from the fan perspective, as well. When the Retrievers begin play this season, they’ll be doing so without fans in the audience to cheer them on. But even if they can’t hear the roar of the crowd, Retriever Nation is still rooting for the home team.
Local fan John Lotz shares, “Even if my wife and I can’t be there in person we want to show our support to the players. We want them to know that we will be rooting for them while watching at home as much as if we were at the games.”
To give the players a sense of audience support, fans can purchase cardboard cutouts to have displayed in the stands. Those who bought season tickets have access to exclusive streaming content.
“We wanted to create a unique season ticket package that gives our loyal fan base an opportunity to continue to support UMBC Basketball as our student-athletes return to competition,” explains Seth Nagle, assistant director for annual giving, athletics. “The familiar faces on gameday, even in cardboard cutout form, will remind our athletes of the overwhelming support we have received in offsetting costs related to the measures put in place to allow a safe return to athletic activities and competition.”
Returning to what they love
More than anything, players and coaches are just happy to get back to doing what they love.
“It’s been great to be around our players, staff, and overall basketball family again,” says Ryan Odom, Men’s Basketball head coach. “We’ve been working hard to prepare for the season and our players have been great. They come to work hard every day and are excited about the prospects for the season.”
Want to show your support for #RetrieverNation? Consider submitting words of encouragement and photos or videos to cheer on our teams!
Banner image: Retriever barbell. All photos by Dmitri Floyd ’21, media and communication studies.