by Siera Jones
For the Norfolk State women’s basketball team, the uncertainties of the past six months have thrown them into a mental game that in some ways proves more trying than winning physical contests.
The cancellation of the MEAC tournament and the rest of the 2019-20 season represented the first challenge, but it was far from the last. The Spartan women struggled to find a way to move forward while nearly half of the roster waited to find out if they’d ever compete at the collegiate level again.
“We had seven seniors, so there were a lot of tears,” head coach Larry Vickers recalled. “And then it was just a waiting game to see if they’d be able to get that year back or not. About three weeks later it was announced that they wouldn’t give that year back to the seniors.”
Without the eligibility for an extra year, the seniors were forced to bid their team a premature farewell. Among the departures: 2019-2020 season MEAC Player of the Year and MEAC Defensive Player of the Year, Chanette Hicks. The remaining Spartans grappled with a newfound leadership void.
For the next six months, each of the Spartan women went their separate ways. They faced the challenge of maintaining their skills without their teammates while the spreading pandemic changed their ways of life.
“We had so many players from cities that even shut down the parks,” Coach Vickers said. “They took all the local rims down, so we had a lot of players that had a hard time maintaining their skills.”
On top of the uncertainty surrounding their next season, the team was shaken by the racial tension that gripped the United States as COVID-19 cases simultaneously steadily rose. The players had to rely on each other and formed a support group even while scattered across the country.
“We had zoom meetings to sit down and talk about what was going on in the world,” Coach Vickers said. “They spent so much time together trying to offer each other comfort.”
Coach Vickers also credited the NSU Athletic Department and Student Athlete Advisory Committee for bringing a sense of solidarity across sports.
“Athletics did a really good job of hosting zooms to give everyone a chance to talk about that stuff, and everyone was trying to get involved,” He said. “Also SAAC was holding a lot of events to keep everyone connected.”
Once the team returned to campus in September, they still had to wait nearly a month to begin training. Once they began physical training for the season, coronavirus restrictions presented additional challenges.
“Our practices have always been open to the public, but this is the first time that our practices have been closed,” Coach Vickers said. “We’re sanitizing basketballs, and we’re not able to use our locker room. There are just a lot of conveniences that we used to have that are now gone, so we’re just trying to take it one step at a time.”
The Spartan women are doing everything in their power to stay healthy and ensure that the season begins on Jan. 2 without any hiccups.
“We try to put together our own NSU women’s basketball bubble where we just stay responsible and hold each other accountable,” Coach Vickers said. “We’re trying to hold each other accountable and stay safe, and we’re also trying to stay supportive.”
Although the team is willing to do whatever it takes to have an uninterrupted season, living with COVID-19 has been no easy adjustment. The Spartan women have had to get used to campus life without gatherings or outings. Most of their classes are held virtually.
Coach Vickers explained, “A lot of us are struggling with the mental health portion of this as well… Being locked in and not being able to get out. So we’re just trying to stay supportive as we move forward.”
Coach Vickers is confident in the team leaders that have stepped up for the 2021 season.
“We’ve broken down into two leadership groups,” he explained. “We have the senior leadership group led by Armani Franklin who’s been with me all four years… And then Camryn Platt-Morris and Ta’Liyah Edmonds will be our leaders for our freshman and sophomores who are living on campus.”
Because of their six-month hiatus followed by a late start to training, it is vital to the team’s success that they take advantage of every second in the gym.
“Some schools were able to go back and practice in the summer, but we’re playing from behind,” Coach Vickers explained. “We weren’t able to do anything until the 21st of September.”
Although the Spartans are further behind in training than in previous years, they are prepared to make the best of their unconventional situation and grow from the lessons they’ve learned during the offseason.
Coach Vickers stated, “We’re behind, but we’re excited…This is a year that has taught us that everything in life is bigger than basketball. We’re just trying to get better every day, and we finished second the last two years, so we want to take that last step and win a championship”