ALBANY — It was like a game of Clue, a hodgepodge of details plugged in seemingly at random.
On Sunday, the UMBC women’s basketball team was beaten by Mr. Green (Vermont) in the study (UAlbany’s SEFCU Arena) with a dagger (3-point shooting).
As of three days prior, the Retrievers were scheduled to play on Sunday in the comfort of home at the UMBC Event Center in Baltimore against Stony Brook, but the cards got shuffled by COVID-19 pauses involving both UAlbany and Stony Brook.
In a scramble of creativity and cooperation, the America East conference arranged to have UMBC sent to Albany, where Vermont was scheduled to be, anyway, just not with the Retrievers as an opponent.
The pandemic calls for resourcefulness from everyone, and the America East showed some by finding an opportunity to move some of the game pieces around to maintain some semblance of continuity to the season.
The pandemic also calls for gratitude for life’s small rewards — like playing a game, any game, anywhere — and both UMBC and Vermont certainly expressed that after the Catamounts’ 73-56 victory.
“Just things like practicing yesterday, not having a shootaround today, it all just made it a transition for these young ladies,” UMBC coach Johnetta Hayes said. “But no excuses. We were grateful to have a game. Our America East teams are extremely grateful to play games. It’s a hectic two days, but nevertheless we’re here, we’re competing and we’re looking forward to tomorrow.”
“It’s good to be be playing basketball,” Vermont coach Alisa Kresge said. “That’s what we talked about with our team. Let’s just go play games, it doesn’t matter who, it doesn’t matter where, at least we’re playing basketball.
“So, really thankful to UAlbany for hosting us and to the league to figure this out for our players to get some games under our belt.”
The year 2020 was nearly out the door Thursday, but New Year’s Eve wasn’t too late for UAlbany and Stony Brook to each experience one more setback, as both programs went on pause because of a positive among their respective Tier 1 personnel, which includes players, coaches, team managers and trainers.
That left both Vermont and UMBC with an open weekend.
They weren’t scheduled to play each other until Feb. 27-28, in Burlington.
The idea was floated to hook them up this weekend, and as a concession to UMBC’s travel challenge, Vermont agreed to give up the home games and play in Albany, cutting several hours out of the Retrievers’ bus ride north.
“It’s been an interesting New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day,” Hayes said with a chuckle. “We were notified on New Year’s Eve that we would not be playing Stony Brook this week because of COVID-19 issues. So that afternoon, after practice, we were told that we had an opportunity to play Vermont in Albany, so we went right into 48 hours of trying to secure a bus and a driver and a hotel room, which we had a difficult time, and then get here in a timely fashion to play.
“It’s difficult for all of us. We didn’t go home for Thanksgiving. They didn’t go home for Christmas. We’re all committed to being here. We haven’t had any [COVID] issues just yet, but it’s definitely hard on them being away from their families.”
UMBC, which split two home games against UAlbany on Dec. 19-20, has been able to keep a clean slate from a coronavirus standpoint and has been playing games since way back on Nov. 25.
The Catamounts can’t say the same, as the Vermont athletic department announced on Nov. 15 that the women’s and men’s basketball and hockey programs would be on pause until Dec. 18, then both basketball teams shut down all team activities on Nov. 18 because of a Tier 1 positive for each.
The Vermont women played their first game on Dec. 19.
They didn’t face the travel headaches that UMBC did, but adjusting to a new opponent brings its own challenge, when you’ve prepared for one and then get a new assignment.
“We were in the middle of the Albany scout, actually, when I got the call from the associate athletic director giving me a heads-up that our opponent could be changing, the location could be changing, but it wasn’t certain,” Kresge said. “So at practice, we didn’t say a word to the team.
“It kind of felt like we were getting ready for a math exam and all of a sudden we’re going into a biology exam,” she said with a laugh. “Our game plan got thrown out the window. And even at yesterday’s practice, some of the players were like, ‘Wait, was that for Albany or UMBC?’ So it was a big difference for our team, but I thought they did a great job setting the scout and understanding everything that we worked on the couple days prior.”
“I think we handled it pretty well,” Vermont captain Josie Larkins said. “It’s going from two different teams all of a sudden. We were ready to have our last day of scout for Albany and get ready for that game, and then all of a sudden we get the call at night saying, ‘Oh, the plans have changed, and you’ll be playing UMBC,’ which is a team we would’ve been playing a lot later in the season.
“But I think we did a really good job, and the coaches have been prepared for each team with the scout and making us understand what their tendencies are, plays and how we’re going to attack them.”
The only noise at SEFCU Arena on Sunday was from the Vermont and UMBC players and coaches, as only about 30 media and staff were on hand. Two huge white tarps were rolled down behind each basket to compress the action to just the court.
Larkins found her 3-point shooting early, Vermont took a 23-12 lead after one quarter and maintained control of the game the rest of the way.
Bolstered by her early success from behind the arc, Larkins finished with 21 points on 7-for-10 shooting from the field, making five of six 3-point attempts, and Anna Olson was tough inside, making nine of 11 shots for 19 points.
“Weirdly enough, I think the white background might’ve helped me in the fact that our gym is very similar to having a wall behind both baskets,” Larkins said with a chuckle. “So I kind of think it was more like our homecourt than it usually is.”
That’s good, because she and her teammates will play another “home” game at SEFCU on Monday afternoon against UMBC.
They’ve got a court, two baskets, a ball and an opponent. What else could you need?