These are strange times. And strange times call for innovative, creative solutions.
The University of the Southwest athletics, facing the heartbreaking possibility of lost seasons due to COVID-19, employed some innovation and creativity, with athletic director Steve Appel arranging for his school’s sports teams to have seasons after all.
Sports in New Mexico may be on hold, but New Mexico sports don’t have to be – as long as they are not played in New Mexico. And so, Appel negotiated with Sky Ranch, a retreat in Van, Texas, for USW fall, winter and spring sports to be played there.
Mustang volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer, and baseball and softball, will begin their seasons a bit later. But USW’s basketball teams are scheduled to reach Van today and start playing Friday, with the women’s team first to take the floor.
So, the Mustangs’ 2020-21 sports season officially begins Friday when the USW women’s basketball team visits Texas A&M-Texarkana and tips off at 5:30 p.m. Central time.
Mustang sports will finally be here.
“It’s been a long time coming,” USW’s second-year women’s head basketball coach Devonte Brewer said. “We were ready to play in October, then we were ready to play in November, then we had to send everybody home for break. We were able to put this together, so we’re excited that we’re in the reach of playing.”
At least, Brewer hopes they are. He and his players remain cautiously optimistic.
“I told them I won’t believe we’re playing,” Brewer said, “until that ball is about to go up and we’re about to play.”
Assuming there are no surprise postponements – which have happened even in Major League Baseball, the National Football League and National Basketball Association – the USW women begin their season and Mustang sports on Friday, the first of a scheduled two-game series at Texarkana, that concludes Saturday afternoon.
After the novelty of finally playing wears off, USW will be dealing with normal challenges and questions. A big question is, how will the Mustangs fare this season?
“Man, that’s hard to say,” Brewer said. “I feel like we’re definitely better than we were last year – we’re deeper, we’re a little more athletic. We have more seniors, so we’ll have more leadership. So, I think we have a chance to be really good. But, with all the (COVID) circumstances, it’s really going to be a day-by-day process.”
So far, the Mustangs’ lone measuring stick has been from intra-squad competition during practices.
“We look really good against each other,” Brewer said. “Offensively, we’ve got some holes, but we do some really good things, like sharing the ball. We play fast. We’re a little more athletic than we’ve been in years past.
“We look good. I’m just ready to play somebody else and see some competition.”
Wish granted Friday, COVID permitting. Slotted to start for Brewer in Friday’s opener are: senior guard Isabel Rodriguez (5’9”), senior guard Shanyce Cabrales (5’3”), junior guard Angelina Barela (5’7”), junior forward Kenedi Tanks (5’8”), and freshman forward Beverly Bradley (5’7”).
Brewer has no qualms about starting the Oakland product Bradley, despite her inexperience at the college level.
“She’s tough,” Brewer said. “Obviously, some things worked out (in practice). She’s definitely no slouch. You just never know how a freshman is going to respond to her first game, but she’s good. I think she’s going to surprise a lot of people this year. She’s really talented.”
Rounding out the USW roster are: senior guard Rhianna Bortoli (5’5”); senior guard Jazmin Rios (5’9”); freshman guard Mariah Diaz (5’3”); freshman guard Morgan Kappenman (5’3”); freshman forward Abigail Olivas (5’8”); and freshman guard Gigi Waddell (5’3”).
So, a fairly seasoned starting lineup, but a mostly-young bench.
It’s a solid group, though, one that has earned Brewer’s confidence, a group he thinks can handle just about anything that comes its way. Including a pandemic that has shaken the world and more specifically, altered the Mustangs’ season.
“They’ve been pretty good (about dealing with the virus),” Brewer said. “We’ve been able to really keep them safe. Overall, they’ve been really good. We’ve been able to jam a lot in.”
All the work that has been put in – under uniquely challenging circumstances – will start to show on the court Friday. It will be a different kind of season for the players, though, living at a retreat in east Texas, playing all road games.
“They seem to have their spirits up high,” Brewer said. “They seem excited about it from everything they told me. They chose to do this. We had a lot of opportunities to opt out if they wanted to. They’re all in. There are a couple that opted out for COVID reasons and the potential severity of it in their families, which we totally understand. But the ones who opted in, they’re really excited about it.
“Wish us luck, pray for us,” Brewer added. “But we’re ready to go. We’re definitely ready to go.”