Credit: Kyle Calzia | Mustang News

As the start of the 2020-2021 Cal Poly Basketball season draws near, both the men’s and women’s programs are working to plan a safe and successful season to pave the way for teams playing in later seasons. 

“Anything that we do, everybody is watching and how we handle everything can be a roadmap for the other teams going forward,” Women’s Basketball head coach Faith Mimnaugh said.

The Women’s Basketball program is set to start the new season on Nov. 25 at Stanford.

Mimnaugh said she is looking forward to the start of the new season as she wants to get back to where the program left off in early March, where they reached the Big West Tournament Semifinal before COVID-19 put a halt to all competition

She said she is conscious of the safety risks and concerns that come along with the start of the season, but is staying optimistic nonetheless. 

“We’re kind of an experiment for sure, but I’m excited for the opportunity,” Mimnaugh said. 

To maintain team safety while traveling, she said it “is going to be key” to keep players away from others that are potentially untested or asymptomatic, and make sure that players wear their masks during all breaks.

“That’s the biggest thing for me, trying to do our best to stay healthy,” Mimnaugh said. “I’d love to have each of these kids return home to clear lungs and lively bodies that they can use for the rest of their lives.” 

Men’s Basketball head coach John Smith reflected on how the professional basketball leagues handled the pandemic and how they paved the way for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) moving forward. 

“Once the WNBA and the NBA had their seasons and it went off successfully, it gave the NCAA some guidelines and some direction of how to pull [the start of the season] off, so we’ve taken from some of those protocols that they had in the bubble,” Smith said. “But it’s going to be a little different because we won’t be in a bubble.”

Aside from all the safety protocols that are being put in place by the NCAA, both basketball programs are mindful of the responsibility of competing during a global pandemic.

“Everybody wants athletics back, athletics is the front porch to any university, and we understand the importance of that,” Smith said. “So, we have to take [the start of the season] very seriously and make sure that we give the other sports an opportunity to play as well.” 

According to Smith, the university has established a variety of COVID-19 protocols in efforts to “contain and limit the virus.” All players regularly have their temperature taken, get tested weekly, stay socially distant and wear masks when they’re not on the basketball floor.

“There’s just a lot of things that we have to do differently that we haven’t done in the past and [the players] know that if we really want to play, they have to adhere to [the protocols], so that’s the way we’re approaching it,” Smith said.

Cal Poly Director of Athletics Don Oberhelman said he feels that the start of the season “is a mixed bag.”

“I think we’re all concerned about what it means and putting people at risk and further exposure,” Oberhelman said. “I think we’re all ready to try to return to as much normalcy as we can.”

However, Oberhelman said that because basketball squads are smaller than other sports, they are “easier to control any sort of outbreaks or any sort of issues.”

“I think basketball is the right sport to see if we can pull [the return of Cal Poly sports] off,” Oberhelman said. “If it goes well then I think it gives the green light for us to continue to try to open up more sports for competition.”

Nonetheless, Oberhelman said that for sports to make a successful return, everyone involved must adhere to the protocols, including coaches, athletes, students and staff. 

“We really need the environment to be good,” Oberhelman said. 

Despite all the challenges and unknowns that the virus will propose during the season, student athletes’ mental states will be a priority for Oberhelman. 

“Keeping an eye on the mental health and making sure that we’re taking care of our students in the best possible way is going to continue to be our biggest challenge as much as managing the virus itself,” Oberhelman said.

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