State’s COVID stance benches Lady ’Cats … again

Ignacio’s Ebonee Gomez (23) puts on a proper game face prior to second-half play inside IHS Gymnasium during the 2019-20 season. Now a senior, as were Elizabeth Valdez, Bella Pena and Makayla Howell (all visible at rear) last winter, she’ll be one of the Lady Bobcats’ primary leaders ... if and when the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season tips off. The season was delayed for a second time as of Dec. 6.
Sisters, Jayden (left) and Laci Brunson, can’t wait to get out of a timeout and back onto the IHS Gymnasium court during the 2019-20 season. Now a senior and sophomore respectively, the excitable duo should again contribute greatly to the Lady Bobcats’ cause this winter ... if and when the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season tips off. The season was delayed for a second time as of Dec. 6.
Ignacio head coach Justa Whitt tries conveying energy to her Lady Bobcats in a timeout against Holyoke during last season’s Class 2A State Championships’ ‘Great 8’ round up in Loveland. If and when the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season tips off again, she’ll have plenty of returning talent with which to work and potentially earn another State berth.
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum

CHSAA now fingering February for hoops start

With an intra-Valley showdown against Bayfield first up on her Lady Bobcats’ slimmed-down 2020-21 schedule, Ignacio’s Justa Whitt couldn’t wait for CHSAA’s approved Jan. 4, 2021, date for official practices to begin – even if that left her team with just three calendar days before the Lady Wolverines’ 1/8 visit.

“Those girls are a strong enough unit that it won’t take long for us to … get them back in shape,” she said last week. “That’s going to be the trick. Honestly, we had a little bit of stuff in the summertime, but it was mostly just some outdoor shooting, we had weight-room stuff going – that’s mostly what it was … whatever the kids wanted to come work on themselves.”

After going 18-6 overall in ’19-20 and reaching the Class 2A State Championships’ initial ‘Great 8’ phase – before the double-elimination tourney was abruptly canceled after its first day due to growing COVID-19 concerns nationwide – routine maintenance would have appeared to be about all the Lady ’Cats would have needed to prep for their season-opener.

“You know, we have a strong senior group and definitely have the chance to be contenders again this year,” said Whitt, 34-13 since the 2018-19 season, when she took over for Trae Seibel, and 50-22 in three total IHS varsity campaigns (she’d first taken the reins from Brice Searles for the ’12-13 run, and led Ignacio to State for the first time in years) to date.

“That group, getting a chance to show their stuff one more time – they didn’t quite get to finish showing what they had last year – that should be fun.”

If and when they’re finally allowed to take the court.

Following communication Sunday night, Dec. 6, between the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Colorado High School Activities Association, it was decided that the prospective ‘Season B’ start dates would be pushed back – again – to Jan. 25 for practices and Feb. 1 for competition.

In a letter sent to CHSAA Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green, CDPHE Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Rye stressed, “The pandemic has reached an all-time high in terms of disease transmission both in Colorado and around the nation. The Colorado School of Public Health estimates that 1 in 40 Coloradans are currently infectious. Hospital admissions are steadily increasing, and the past six weeks have produced a significant increase in the number of deaths statewide.”

“With the Thanksgiving holiday just behind us and the impending December holiday festivities, we are very concerned that the rate of transmission will continue to increase.”

“In addition, our top goal for the new year is to support a return to in-person learning,” she continued. “Season B sports are conducted mainly indoors during the colder months, which reduces the ability to assure social distancing. This in turn may further promote disease transmission at a time when we need to ensure that students and teachers are protected, and that in-person learning is the highest priority.”

Whitt wasn’t at all surprised by the re-postponement.

“I just had a feeling this was going to happen; 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?”

“The virus — I do my best to try to ward against that, but certainly it’s a problem. And basketball is a ‘contact’ sport, you know?”

Incredibly, by the time the Lady ’Cats finally see action – against BHS or another team; 2A/1A San Juan Basin League play was slated to begin 1/12 at home versus Dolores, but the proposed delay would shorten Season B by one week, leaving just seven in which to conduct an entire season – they could conceivably have been waiting close to a calendar year to re-join forces.

“Before all the quarantine stuff happened … we were going to have a whole month – all of December – where we could have had open gyms,” said Whitt. “We’d had the volleyball girls and soccer girls doing stuff after school during late October, November – after cross-country ended – to kind of give them a little bit of time; they weren’t going to really have any lead-in to their seasons once we got to that, you know, after [basketball].”

“So that made sense to me, that it was their turn to have a little gym time, but with basketball starting in December … things started changing. With the catawumpus way things are, there’s no telling what could happen.”

CHSAA, CDPHE and Gov. Jared Polis’ COVID Response Team plan to meet again in mid-January to continue discussing variances for Season B and reassess COVID-19 data at that time, but variances will not be considered until then.

Specifics for each sport will be communicated upon approval from the CDPHE, while county health departments and school districts will determine their respective open-gym policies, per state guidance.

“Of course,” agreed Whitt. “We have a whole different world situation going on; we have a complete about-face from what we’re used to. If we do get to play, or whether we get to play, it’s going to be … no fans, regulated to where there’s few people in the gym. So, it’s going to be very different, and it’s going to create a different game element as well.”

Should the season finally get underway and IHS’ shrunken schedule remain as is, the Lady ’Cats could conceivably be standing 13-0 entering postseason play – providing they can claw through a tricky mid-season stretch including a trip to non-league 2A Sanford (16-7 overall in ’19-20), followed by a visit from 3A Cedaredge (19-5), and a home test against SJBL 1A power Dove Creek (18-4).

At present, Ignacio’s schedule (very much subject to change) shows regular-season action then winding down with a visit to Telluride, followed by home games versus Mancos and Ridgway – all fellow SJBL 2A members, who registered an aggregate 20-42 record last year.

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