Monday’s decision by the National Junior College Athletic Administration to move all NJCAA Division I fall sports other than cross country to the spring created new challenges for Casper College’s athletic department.
The move is a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that led to the cancellation of all team sports at the college level beginning in mid-March.
The Thunderbirds have fielded teams in volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball for years, and added men’s and women’s soccer to the mix this year. Prior to Monday’s decision, both soccer programs were scheduled to begin play in mid-August while on the Casper College website the volleyball team listed a match against Western Nebraska Community College on Sept. 1. Both basketball teams were expected to begin competition in late October.
Obviously, that will no longer be the case. Exactly what each team’s schedule looks like will be figured out over the next few weeks as coaches and school administrators from Region IX, which is comprised of Wyoming’s six junior colleges – Casper College, Central Wyoming College in Riverton, Western Wyoming Community College in Rock Springs, Northwest College in Powell, Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne and Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington – and schools in Nebraska and Colorado get together to discuss scheduling.
“First and foremost, we’re optimistic and positive,” said Paul Marble, who took over as the Casper College athletic director on Monday. “We feel like the future is going to change and things are going to be better and we’ll be back to normal at some time.”
Until then, however, there will be hurdles to overcome.
Scheduling presents the biggest challenge, although a proposed plan of action released by the NJCAA on Monday gives schools guidelines to work with. Soccer teams are allowed to play 14 games from April 2-May 24, volleyball teams are allowed 21 matches (Jan. 29-April 3) and basketball teams will play 22 games (Jan. 22-April 10). In addition, soccer, volleyball and basketball teams all have 60 consecutive calendar days for practices and scrimmages this fall.
The limited number of games – the basketball teams each played more than 30 games last season – actually works out in Casper College’s favor after both Gillette College and Sheridan College cut their athletic programs last month.
“Losing Gillette and Sheridan was going to make it really hard to fill a 30-game schedule,” Casper College women’s head basketball coach Dwight Gunnare said, “so it will now be a little easier to overcome that. We’ll play 10 games for North sub-region seeding purposes and then we’ll have to fill in the other 12 games. Shortening the season couldn’t have come at a better time.”
Other T-Birds coaches also saw benefits to playing shortened seasons.
“This provides our kids academically with the opportunity to really hit the ground running and take advantage of the situation,” men’s head basketball coach Shaun Gutting said. “They can focus on their grades to help them go to Division I.”
Under normal circumstances, longtime volleyball coach Angel Sharman would be preparing to welcome her team to campus next month, with just two weeks of practice to get ready for the season opener. This year she doesn’t have those constraints.
“One benefit is that we do get to practice in the fall so we have more time with the girls,” she said. “I’m excited about that because we’ll get to do more things and be a little bit more prepared. I think you’ll see better volleyball in the spring just because teams will have time in the fall to get their kids where they need to be.”
And while Ammon Bennett is disappointed he won’t get to unveil the school’s inaugural women’s soccer team next month, he expects the extra practice time to allow for more team bonding as well as a better quality of play in the spring.
“The blessing is that with a new team we now have time to get to know each other, which you don’t always have a chance to do,” he stated. “We have more time to get these kids on the same page.”
Follow sports editor Jack Nowlin on Twitter @CASJackN