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UPDATED STORY: NJCAA postpones national tourneys, suspends play from March 14-April 3

UPDATED STORY: NJCAA postpones national tourneys, suspends play from March 14-April 3

The Western Nebraska Community College women’s basketball team will have five more weeks before they will participate in the NJCAA national tournament after the NJCAA postponed the upcoming DI and DII national tournaments because of the recent developments regarding COVID-19.

WNCC head coach Chad Gibney said it was an unusual day on campus, especially when he had to tell his team the tournament was postponed. WNCC was slated to leave Saturday for the national tournament in Lubbock, Texas.

Gibney said, however, the decision was made for the safety of the players and that is what is most important.

“It is always disappointing hearing that we are not going to compete and represent our university, but at the same time we completely understand the circumstances that are currently at hand,” he said. “Obviously the safety of our players is the top priority at this point.”

NJCAA President and CEO Dr. Christopher Parker expressed his sentiments regarding the situation.

“Due to the concerns surrounding the safety and security of our student-athletes and those involved with Division I and Division II NJCAA championships, we are postponing the tournaments and maintaining a fluid mentality to see these tournaments take place with a tentative start date,” Parker said. “We have two main objectives in this situation – first and foremost is to protect the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, college personnel, and fans. Second is to make sure our student-athletes receive the national championship experience that they have worked so hard for.”

The start dates for the tournaments are tentatively set for April 20. The women will be playing in Lubbock, Texas, while the men’s tournament is in Hutchinson, Kansas.

On top of everything, the NJCAA issued a state on Friday, March 13 about competition after reviewing and evaluating all of the feedback and information from their members. The NJCAA wrote, “The NJCAA is suspending all competition beginning Saturday, March 14 through Friday, April 3. The NJCAA Board of Regents will meet on April 3, as previously scheduled, and an update from the National Office will be provided with a full assessment of the national landscape. Should conditions improve, regions and individual colleges will be allowed to resume regular season competition in a format and time period following April 3rd that has been approved by the region. During this entire ‘no competition’ period, practice standards are determined by the individual colleges.”

The “no competition” for two weeks will impact many Cougar softball and baseball games. The baseball team was slated to have six home games of seven days in that time frame with home games. The softball team had seven days of competition in those two weeks.

While the COVID-19 is changing the plan of action for many baseball and softball teams right now, the basketball teams that made the national tournament will have wait until April to play. The NJCAA, on Friday, said they will be contacting the hosts of the national basketball tournaments to discuss the best course of action.

“All four hosts will make the appropriate accommodations to work with the association to provide the most beneficial opportunities for our student-athletes,” the NJCAA wrote in the press release. “There are calls set up with the chairs for Monday, March 16 with both divisions and genders of basketball to discuss the necessary rule adjustments and accommodations. A follow-up call with the athletic directors of all participating teams will occur on Thursday, March 19.”

Gibney said one good thing is so far they haven’t canceled the championships like the NCAA.

“We are very happy that it has been postponed at this point and not canceled,” Gibney said. “We look forward to the opportunity to compete here soon. We definitely want to do our best to represent Western Nebraska and we are hoping to get that opportunity.”

What that does, though, is make for an interesting period to prepare for the national tournament. In fact, all the teams will be entering the tournament on the same level, having not played in five to six weeks.

Gibney said the break will get his team some time to rest and heal up. They will continue to practice to get ready for the April 20 national tournament.

“I don’t know if there is any handbook or first-hand experience on exactly the best way to go run our program going forward,” Gibney said. “But we are going to do the best that we can. We obviously want to make sure the girls have some time to rest and at the same time we have to make sure we are ready to go. It will be an interesting challenge over the next five weeks.”

WNCC is the seventh seed in the national tournament and received a first-round bye. The Cougars will meet the winner of Murray State (Oklahoma) and Florida SouthWestern. The actual dates and times have not been released because there might be some teams that cannot make the tournament now.

“It will definitely be interesting to see who will have rust and who will be excited to play just because it is an unique experience that I don’t think anyone has been through before,” Gibney said.

The postponement does affect many things from championships to current games played. It also affects recruiting of basketball players. The national tournament was a hot bed for college coaches to recruit players. Now, with the signing deadline the first of April and the tournament set for April 20, recruiting will be different.

“It really does affect recruiting,” Gibney said. “Luckily, our girls are in a position where they had such a good regular season that they are being recruited. It may mean the process will happen a little bit later than it normally does. It is a tough spot, but we know our girls will be ready to contribute at four-year schools. They have done a great job all year that there will be plenty of four-year schools that want them to come play for them just like they did for us.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only affected the women’s basketball team, but other Cougar sports.

The Cougar baseball team is in Arizona for Spring Break trips and played just one doubleheader on Tuesday against South Mountain Community College. The team’s two games Thursday against GateWay and Phoenix College was canceled. WNCC is cutting the trip short after their two games on Thursday were cancelled. WNCC coach Mike Jones said all junior college activity in Arizona is suspended for right now.

The men’s soccer team had their spring game with Colorado Mesa on March 21 canceled because of what is going around the United States with COVID-19.

The NJCAA is just one of many organizations that has suspended or called off sporting events. The NCAA has cancelled the rest of the winter and the spring championships for Division I and II, while many of the professional teams have suspended play in their leagues.

The COVID-19 is also affecting high schools with many high school state tournaments affected of either be called off or playing in front of no crowds or just family.

The NJCAA said that the championships are tentatively scheduled for April 20, but things could change.

“Start dates for each of the respective tournaments are tentative and the NJCAA will continue to follow all state and local mandates, restrictions, and regulations as it impacts its member institutions and national championship events,” the NJCAA said in a press release on Thursday.

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