Last March, in the middle of the busiest time of the year for FSC Athletics, everything came to a grinding halt. Through months of deliberations, Zoom meetings and sleepless nights, here we are 337 days since the final home event of the spring.
The women’s basketball team returned to play on Feb. 5 in a home home game against the Panthers of Florida Tech. The score and overall outcome of that game was secondary to the joy that came with seeing Mocs competing for the first time this academic year. The return to action for an athletic department that had sat in flux for 11 months was a colossal win for the college as a whole.
Athletic Director and Dean of Wellness Drew Howard whose efforts on the administrative end played, sitting through hundreds of zoom meetings, played a large part in the return to action, was able to let out a sigh of relief following the game.
“There was something about tonight, that first time seeing the tip go, seeing the first three go in, it feels good being back here playing some college basketball,” Howard said.
With no fans in attendance, the arena was eerily quiet at times. I was fortunate enough to be in the Jenkins Field House as a part of the live stream broadcast crew. There were a mix of emotions and stresses throughout the day due to the lengthy layoff. Looking back several days later, I’d say the main emotion for all involved was grateful – grateful for the chance to compete and to work and take in a live sporting event for the first time since last year. It may have been different from the packed house we are accustomed to, but that’s okay. Different isn’t always a bad thing. In this case, being different is allowing FSC to compete while other universities have thrown in the towel on their spring athletics schedules.
From a performance standpoint, the star of the weekend was junior guard Mackenzie Steele, who set a career high in rebounds (14) on Friday and points (27) on Sunday. She handily led all scorers with 45 points combined over the two games. Steele has spent her time off working on expanding her game on both ends of the court.
“Over the break I worked on every part of my game, but I really put an emphasis on attacking the basket whether it’s into a pull up or all the way to the basket as well as my on-ball defense,” Steele said. “These are two things that I wanted to have an impact in my game to go beyond just shooting.”
While the fans were missed, Steele acknowledged that the duties of providing motivation fall solely on the team.
“I think with or without fans our team has always done a good job bringing energy and getting the team ready to play,” Steele said. “You can’t rely on your fans to get you going so bringing it from within the team helps us.”
This holds true to how the women played over their two games, suffering a hard fought 64-57 loss on Friday before winning in a convincing fashion by a final score of 74-43 on Sunday.
“There were a lot of nerves because it had been 11 months. We’ve been through a lot of adversity just like everybody else… For the girls to pull off what they did on Sunday, in such high fashion the way they did, it was a pleasant surprise, and it was fun to watch,” Head Coach Betsy Harris said.
For Harris, the team must remain vigilant in their ability to tackle the next situation, while taking care of the variables that are in their control.
“We try to find that bright light somewhere, and if you can’t find it then you need to make it,” Harris said. “You bust through that darkness and you pull that light out and make the best out of everything.”
With the first two games in the book, Howard and the rest of his administration will now look to see which other teams will be able to return to play safely.
“We’ve put together, in my opinion, a strong policy and procedure for all of our sports teams to be able to participate,” Howard said. “We are testing across the board, all of our sports, with different levels depending on the contact risk and if all continues to hold well, we are going to be really busy in the month of March.”