UW-Eau Claire cancels men’s basketball season

Positive COVID-19 test on UWEC basketball team cuts season short

UWEC+basketball+student+Carter+Brooks+says+he+is+now+eligible+to+return+to+UW-Eau+Claire+for+one+final+season+due+to+COVID-19.+%28Submitted%29

UWEC basketball student Carter Brooks says he is now eligible to return to UW-Eau Claire for one final season due to COVID-19. (Submitted)

The halls of Zorn Arena used to hum with the sound of bouncing basketballs, the swish of nets and the roar of hundreds of Blugold basketball fans.

Now, the only sound in Zorn is the screeching of shoes coming from nurses and other medical staff who are testing students and community members for COVID19.

This new COVID-19 testing, which was put in place by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire last summer, was a source of great anxiety for UWEC basketball player Carter Brooks. Brooks said he was required to get tested for COVID-19 in Zorn Arena three times per week along with the rest of the Blugold basketball team.

“You do everything you can to keep yourself safe from COVID-19, but there’s only so much you can do,” Brooks said. “You never know who you come into contact even when you are being careful.”

The players knew that to keep their makeshift season alive, they would all have to consistently test negative for the COVID-19 virus every week, Brooks said. This fear became a reality when their season was cut short after five games due to a positive test by one of their players Alex Voight.

“I felt bad, but I knew I put myself in the best positions to stay safe from it,” Voight said. “We all knew that there was a strong possibility that one of us would get it at some point.”

Despite the seasons abrupt end, the team was able to salvage some sort of season after last year’s bid and first-round win in the NCAA division III March Madness tournament just one week before lockdown began.

“We had all been really itching to get out there,” Brooks said. “We had been practicing all year and still hadn’t played any games because the WIAC was still deciding on the possibility of a season.”

With many Division III conferences cancelling their seasons, there was much uncertainty among the team on whether they would even have a season or not toward the end of the fall semester. This was further emphasized when the neighboring state of Minnesota’s largest Division III conference, the MIAC, cancelled its winter season, Brooks said.

“I think a lot of us were really doubtful about the season going forward,” Brooks said. “We kind of were expecting it to be cancelled considering what the MIAC decided to do with their seasons.”

On Dec. 11, the WIAC Council of Chancellors voted to resume winter sports competition and approved the plans for an improvised men’s and women’s basketball season. The season would consist of a total of six conference games and zero non-conference games, concluding in a WIAC championship tournament in which every conference team was included.

Men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and woman’s ice hockey, woman’s gymnastics, men’s and woman’s swimming and diving and wrestling were all able to have winter seasons that culminated in WIAC conference tournament. Not every winter sports team was able to take advantage of this opportunity though, as men’s and women’s indoors track and field was only able to compete in duo meets because of the WIAC council’s decision to cancel their conference tournament.

One of the main reasons UWEC basketball and other winter sports were were able to have a season was because of the efforts of UW-Eau Claire Athletic Director Dan Schumacher, along with the other WIAC athletic directors throughout Wisconsin.

“There probably hasn’t been a day that has gone by since COVID-19 hit that I haven’t worked to get our athletes the opportunity to get out there and compete,” Schumacher said.

One of the reasons the team was able to compete was because of the protocols that the WIAC has put together for it’s athletic teams and the extensive COVID-19 testing that was done.

“We administered over 30,000 tests since the start of the school year,” Schumacher said. “From these tests, we have only had a handful of players test positive, that’s pretty impressive.”

Head coach for the Blugolds men’s basketball Matt Siverling said said that although the COVID-19 protocols that were set in place were important for reducing the spread of the virus, they were not very conducive for a successful basketball season.

“It was definitely a change for our team in a lot of ways,” Siverling said. “Wearing masks and stuff like that was one of those things that we never had to do before.”

Third-year shooting guard Spencer Page said that one of the biggest changes that affected the performance of the team was the absence of fans at home and away games.

“We missed our fans and parents dearly,” Page said. “Our energy and excitement had to be generated internally instead of externally, we are definitely looking forward to having them back in the stands net year.”

Another factor that could have affected the season was that the team did not even play their home games in Zorn Arena, their usual venue.

“It was a challenge for us to leave the comfort and familiarity of Zorn Arena and move to McPhee but we just had to get used to it,” Page said. “At the end of the day basketball is basketball, no matter if it’s in Zorn Arena or out in the park.”

All of these changes were factors that most likely contributed to the lackluster start for the Blugolds at 2-3, when the positive COVID-19 test result forced a two-week quarantine that required the team to miss out on the chance to compete in the WIAC championship tournament.

“We were all pretty devastated when we found out,” Brooks said. “We knew that there was always a high chance of it happening, but it was still really tough to know that we weren’t even going to get that chance to play in the tournament.”

Although the season ended in anguish for most of the team, there are positives to a season riddled with uncertainties, coach Siverling said.

“The NCAA did a great job of offering every player this season a chance to get another year of eligibility because of how the season played out this year,” Siverling said.

This is an opportunity that Fifth-year Carter Brooks will take advantage of in the upcoming season. Brooks was the third-leading scorer for the Blugolds and an important defensive player this season.

“I just didn’t want my last season playing college basketball to end like that,” Brooks said. “I think that with the talent we have on this team, we could really do something special next year.”