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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Feb. 29, 2024

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Martinez: This winter proving to be most challenging season for prep basketball coaches

High school sports

By , Columbian Assistant Sports Editor

Dan Larson thought the COVID-19 protocol basketball season of 2020-21 would be hardest of his coaching career.

“It was a shortened season, and we were sharing athletes with spring sports,” Larson said. “I don’t think we had a game or practice that we weren’t missing someone. That was hard. But I’m learning that this season may be even worse.”

Normally as the calendar changes from December to January, high school basketball teams have already played half of their allotted 20-game regular season.

But this season, Larson’s Mountain View girls basketball team will head into 2022 having played just three games – tied with Battle Ground for the fewest games played by a girls team in Southwest Washington.

“And really, it feels more like two-and-a-half,” Larson said. “We played Mount Baker and Union (on Dec. 4 and Dec. 6), and then we got invited to play at the Moda Center. But at the time, we had half our team on COVID protocols. So we took our five vaccinated players to play the game just for the experience. But really it felt like a glorified scrimmage.”

That game was played on Dec. 11, and the Thunder haven’t played since.

But compared to the Prairie boys team, the Mountain View girls are lucky. The Prairie boys have only played two games this season.

“Since we started practicing, we’ve had 33 practices and just two games, because of COVID protocols or the weather,” Prairie coach Jimmy Tuominen said. “The guys are really biting at the bit to play someone other than themselves.”

The Falcons thought they’d get to play three games this week as Prairie was a co-host of the Clark County Holiday Invitational.

“Monday was just a microcosm of the entire season for us,” Tuominen said. “It was a lot of hoping, waiting, trying to be flexible, and then ultimately, disappointment.”

Sunday’s overnight snowfall led most teams in the tournament to opt against coming to Prairie to play on Monday. Still, the Falcons hoped to have a game against Woodland on Monday.

But by mid-day, that game was also scrubbed. So the Falcons turned their attention to playing on Tuesday with a revamped schedule.

“But then I woke up at 4:30 this morning and looked out the window and my heart sank,” Tuominen said.

A fresh layer of snow on Monday night led to all of Tuesday’s games to be called off. In fact, tournament directors made the “frustrating but prudent” decision to cancel the rest of the tournament. The Mountain View girls were also scheduled to play three games in the event.

Prairie moved to fill the void by scheduling a game at 6 p.m. Wednesday against Reynolds of Troutdale, Ore., another participant of the Clark County Holiday Invitational.

“I’m just hoping the weather allows us to play,” Tuominen said. “Because I don’t want to have to tell my guys we aren’t playing again. That’s a conversation that has happened way too much this season.”

But there are worse ways to find out that you aren’t playing a game. On Dec. 21, the Mountain View girls traveled up to Longview for a game against Mark Morris.

Normally, pre-game testing is done a few hours before a game. But a series of circumstances led the Monarchs to get tested just before tip-off. A positive test led to the game to be canceled.

“We were on the court warming up,” Larson said. “There was 15 minutes on the clock, and I get a call from my athletic director (Adam Mathieson). He says ‘Are you guys up in Longview?’ And I said ‘Yeah, we’re getting ready to play the game.’ And says ‘Uh, no, you’re not.’ ”

With COVID-19 cases again on the rise, many basketball coaches are very wary about what may happen to their schedules in the first two weeks of January. Given holiday gatherings during the holiday break and three-times-a-week testing mandated by the state, positive tests will be more likely in coming weeks.

“I like to think of myself as an optimist,” Larson said. “But with three-times-a-week testing and we’re now testing the vaccinated, it’s hard not to expect that there will be blips along the way.”

The Thunder rescheduled their game against Mark Morris for next Monday, nearly a month since their last game. Ironically, the Mark Morris game is Mountain View’s Foundation Game.

Approved by the WIAA in 2020, the Foundation Game allows teams to pay a fee to play one extra game during their regular season. Funds raised would help the WIAA pay for things like grants, scholarships and other programs.

“So here we’ve already paid money to add this 21st game to our schedule,” Larson said, “but in reality, we will likely finish the year playing – I don’t know – 10 to 15 games.”

And that’s only if COVID protocols or the weather will allow it.