After being separated from their athletes for nearly three months due to COVID-19, winter sports coaches in West Virginia finally get the opportunity to work with those athletes again when preseason conditioning sessions open Monday.
Several basketball coaches expect to hold workouts for anywhere from an hour to 90 minutes when those sessions start. No sports-specific drills can be held during the weeklong conditioning that’s been approved by Gov. Jim Justice and state health officials. Regular preseason practices for winter sports are set to begin Feb. 15.
Coaches have to temper their enthusiasm for getting reacquainted with their players so that they don’t try to do too much too soon, owing to the long layoff.
“Basically, we’re going to start out slow,’’ said Pat Jones, Nitro’s girls basketball coach. “We don’t want to overdo it. We’ll be doing some conditioning work with a trainer for about an hour, things like that. No basketballs can be involved. The majority of the team hasn’t picked up a basketball in a while, anyway.’’
The game plan is slightly different for George Washington boys coach Rick Greene.
“We want to go real hard,’’ Greene said, “but we’re still going to try and ease them into it. I’m sure they’ve been finding places to play and do stuff, but it’s nothing like how long they’ve been off from a normal, organized practice.
“It’ll be a lot of agility and footwork — a lot of moving, changing direction. Try to simulate basketball movement as much as you can. Circuit training, things of that nature. They’d better stretch good, because there will be some soreness. We don’t want to mess them up for [next] Monday when we really get going.’’
Cabell Midland boys coach J.J. Martin likewise expects to go from 60 to 90 minutes with his team on Monday.
“It depends how much talking we do,’’ Martin said. “We won’t go the full two hours. Hopefully, the guys have been running to keep themselves in shape and we’ll go from there.
“Just to have interactions with the guys and to get them around each other again. I know I’m excited and I know they’re excited. Things have been up in the air for a while, so to get back in the gym will boost the morale for every team.’’
Jones, like a lot of coaches, finds himself in a quandary when it comes to getting players fit for the beginning of actual practice in a week. Girls teams have 16 calendar days (including Sundays) to get in the required 14 practices to be eligible to play on March 3. Boys teams have 18 days before their season tips off on March 5.
“How much running can I do to prepare them,’’ Jones said, “without running the risk of injury? I don’t want to overdo it, not with so much at stake.
“We’ve stacked our schedule. We play a lot of 4A schools — Spring Valley, GW, Capital, St. Albans. I need healthy legs. It’s going to be a different season compared to normal. It’ll be [games] literally every other day.’’
Most teams have scheduled three games a week for the abbreviated regular season, which is just less than six weeks for girls and just over six weeks for boys. Regular-season schedules have been reduced from a maximum of 22 games to 18. Girls sectionals start on April 12 and boys on April 19.
Preseason practice for wrestling, swimming and cheerleading is also set to begin on Feb. 15.