ALBANY — A backup plan is in place, but the University at Albany women’s basketball team is still scheduled to play later this year in Puerto Rico despite the massive damage caused recently to the U.S. territory by Hurricane Maria.
UAlbany is slated to play in the San Juan Tournament Dec. 19 against Southern Illinois and Dec. 21 against Northern Illinois at Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan. Great Danes head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee spoke with a tournament organizer earlier this week, and said the expectation is the mid-December games will be played as scheduled.
“It [Roberto Clemente Coliseum] already has power and the hotel we’d be at has actual [non-generator] power,” Bernabei-McNamee said Thursday. “So there’s a lot of positives.”
Bernabei-McNamee said tournaments based in San Juan around Thanksgiving had been moved off the island, and that a final decision on UAlbany’s tournament will take place in a couple weeks. If it’s decided that San Juan is not ready to host the mid-December tournament, Bernabei-McNamee said the games would be moved to the University of Miami.
UAlbany — which has won six consecutive conference championships, the longest active such streak in the country — started practice Monday. Before that, though, the team’s players and coaches were monitoring the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.
“For us, it definitely had a second layer to it,” Bernabei-McNamee said. “We’re traveling there — and, [for me], my husband and my two sons are planning to go on this trip, too. . . . We want it to happen, but we don’t want it to happen if it’s not going to be a good experience for everybody.”
Beyond that, UAlbany had three athletes and two volunteer assistant coaches from its track and field program affected by either Hurricane Irma or Hurricane Maria. GoFundMe pages have been set up to assist those individuals and their families. Jonel Lacey, from the British Virgin Islands, was affected by Irma; Victor Ortiz and Dayleen Santana, from Puerto Rico, were affected by Maria; and, coaches Grace Claxton — a 2016 Olympian — and Ricardo Estremera, from Puerto Rico, were affected by Maria.
“Their whole lives have been turned upside down,” Bernabei-McNamee said.
With games already on its schedule against Maryland and St. John’s, Bernabei-McNamee said UAlbany signed up for the San Juan Tournament in an attempt to play against fellow mid-major programs in a unique setting.
“One of our goals is to try to do some type of trip every two years that makes our schedule look attractive and provides our players something to look forward to,” Bernabei-McNamee said. “Last year, we didn’t have any trips like that. . . . This is an opportunity to travel, have an awesome experience and play teams at the same level as us.”