LOUDONVILLE — Its final two regular-season games canceled because of the program’s latest disruption related to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Siena women’s basketball team won’t practice Thursday.
“I think,” Siena head coach Ali Jaques said, “everybody needs a day.”
The Saints were scheduled to close their regular-season Thursday and Friday with home games against Niagara, but those games were canceled Wednesday afternoon after Siena’s latest COVID-19 tests results returned a positive result among one of its Tier 1 personnel members.
“After contact tracing,” Siena athletic director John D’Argenio said in a phone interview, “it’s somebody that we determined wasn’t in contact closely with players or other coaches.”
Jaques said Siena could have played its games this week against Niagara, and that none of the program’s “players that are available to play” experienced a change in that status because of Wednesday’s development.
“From our standpoint, we felt we could have [played],” Jaques said during a teleconference with area reporters. “I think Niagara was hesitant. I don’t want to speak out of turn or speak for them, but I think both schools came to a mutual agreement that it probably might be best to not [play], and I can say that the players in our locker room are heart-broken to not have a senior day. To not have a chance to finish the regular season in our own gym was really tough. We’ve had, obviously, these moments before with this team. This one stung a little bit differently.”
D’Argenio confirmed Siena doesn’t need to pause any in-person team activities.
“We just felt we shouldn’t risk it or push it,” D’Argenio said of the Saints not playing this week.
The cancellation of this week’s games for Jaques’ team means the Saints will head into next week’s MAAC tournament not having met the minimum necessary to qualify for NCAA tournament consideration. MAAC Commissioner Rich Ensor, though, said the league formally applied last week for waivers for four programs — both Siena teams, the Niagara women and the Canisius men — in case they didn’t participate in the required 12 regular-season games.
“I feel confident the waivers will be approved,” said Ensor, who added that the NCAA could officially approve them as early as Thursday.
Of the MAAC teams that had waivers requested for them, the Siena and Niagara women’s teams will need them to be eligible to qualify for the NCAA tournament, while the Canisius men won’t need a waiver if they’re able to play both games this week as scheduled at Siena. The Siena men, meanwhile, have played 14 games and no longer require the waiver that was sought for them as a back-up solution.
The Siena women’s basketball team is 3-8 on the season, and will need to play a first-round game next Tuesday to start its MAAC tournament run. The Saints’ season has included multiple disruptions related to the pandemic. Since Siena’s season started with a Dec. 11 loss against Fairfield, the Saints have experienced as many breaks between games of at least 10 days as they did victories during their campaign . . . and, when Siena takes the court in Atlantic City for its first playoff game, the Saints will have just completed their fourth stretch of 10 days between games.
But Jaques and her players likely won’t trust they get to play next Tuesday until the game actually starts. Jaques said Wednesday’s development turned “anticipation for the tournament” into “trepidation . . . in our locker room” that another positive test result could end the team’s season.
“I’m concerned — and it’s not because of contact tracing,” Jaques said. “It’s because were on campus with all students back, and we’re just in a different risk area right now than we have been up until [all students returned to campus].”