Albany County

All UAlbany, Siena basketball teams now paused as sport’s opening night approaches amid rising coronavirus case numbers

Siena coach Ali Jaques is shown at the women's basketball team's media-day event. (Gazette file photo)
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Siena coach Ali Jaques is shown at the women's basketball team's media-day event. (Gazette file photo)

Categories: -The Daily Gazette, College Sports, Sports

In the Capital Region, Division I college basketball is paused.

All of it.

The Siena women’s basketball program was the latest, and last, of the area’s four programs to halt in-person activities this preseason for reasons related to the coronavirus pandemic. Both UAlbany teams were temporarily shut down in early November, while the Siena men’s program had two Tier 1 personnel members test positive for the coronavirus last week prior to the Loudonville college announcing Wednesday that its women’s program had one “positive COVID-19 test result within the program’s Tier 1 personnel, which consists of coaches, student athletes, team managers, and staff.”

In accordance with NCAA guidelines, the Siena women’s basketball program will need to shut down for two weeks. The team last practiced Monday, but its first couple non-conference games — next Wednesday vs. Hofstra and four days later at Binghamton — won’t be played as scheduled, and its Dec. 2 game at UAlbany likely needs to be rescheduled.

“It’s disappointing, but it’s the reality of this season,” Siena women’s head coach Ali Jaques said Wednesday, shortly after conducting a virtual team meeting with her players. “So it’s just about how you handle disappointment, bad news and adversity.”

Tuesday night, when she found out her program had a positive test that made it at least the 17th of the MAAC’s 22 basketball programs to experience some type of pause this preseason, Jaques said it was difficult to process what was next for her Saints.

“Today,” Jaques said early Wednesday afternoon, “it’s all about pushing forward.”

In general, that continues to be the plan for college basketball, a sport that is attempting to start its 2020-21 season amid rising coronavirus cases throughout the United States eight months after the NCAA and its conferences shut down its 2019-20 season because of concerns related to the pandemic. 

“We knew this was going to be challenging,” Siena athletic director John D’Argenio said. “But, because of that, working with our league and our campus, we’ve put a lot of time and work into planning.”

Conference play is scheduled to start Dec. 11 for Siena’s teams and on Dec. 19 for UAlbany’s teams. Non-conference games are able to start next Wednesday — that’s a delay from the sport’s original Nov. 10 debut date — and both D’Argenio and UAlbany athletic director Mark Benson said they remain, for now, OK with their teams scheduling and attempting to play non-league foes. 

“I think we have to take it for each team individually. If we have the opportunity, and if everyone is healthy enough to do so, and we have enough practices, I think it’s beneficial to play non-conference games,” D’Argenio said. “The way this looks, we could be having starts and stops throughout the season, so the more chances you have to play games to get the minimum number [of 13 games needed to qualify for the NCAA tournament], the better off you’ll be.”

“We’d like to be able to,” Benson said, “but it depends on when we can start practicing again.”

And, right now, to be clear: None of the UAlbany and Siena teams have a firm date on when they can return to the practice court.

UAlbany’s teams are unable to practice because of their university’s move to remote learning for the duration of the fall semester, and there isn’t clarity yet on when head coach Will Brown’s men’s team and head coach Colleen Mullen’s women’s team will be able to resume practicing after their university’s third full stoppage this fall semester of athletic activities.

Brown’s team is scheduled to play Marist on Nov. 28, while Mullen’s team is slated to open its season the next day against Central Connecticut. Benson said a decision on the status of those games will be made by early next week, and said the Great Danes’ games immediately after those first contests need quickly to be examined.

“Some of those conversations are already happening,” said Benson, whose America East Conference rival Vermont announced Wednesday that both of its basketball programs needed to pause in-person activities because of positive coronavirus tests.

Meanwhile, Carmen Maciariello’s Siena men’s basketball program is hoping to be able to get back on the practice court before the end of the month, but all three of their season-starting games at Mohegan Sun Arena — set for Nov. 26, 28 and 30 — won’t be played as scheduled, and neither will the Dec. 6 game the Saints had set with Vermont.

Jaques’ squad projects to be able to restart practicing at some point in early December, and her team’s non-conference schedule will likely be fully revamped by that time. Mullen and Jaques already have been in contact regarding finding a new date for their programs’ rivalry game, but Siena’s head coach said she expects her next rescheduling of games for her team won’t be her last this season.

“This is going to be going on all year,” Jaques said. “It’s going to test your flexibility.”

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