The ongoing sense of uncertainty among athletics has impacted every college, and Sandhills Community College is no exception.
“COVID has prohibited us from celebrating the 2020 NJCAA men’s basketball team’s national title, but our focus right now is on NJCAA rulings related to shifts in fall sports which currently allow us to move forward,” Coach Mike Apple notes as teams get set to compete in the 2020-2021 campaign.
By NJCAA rulings, at present, only men’s and women’s cross country are slated to compete this fall That sport’s moving forward is tied to the unique opportunity for social distancing that can be maintained in a start-to-finish format.
“We are excited to bring a core group of runners into the program this fall,” Apple notes. “While the season will take a minimalist approach to scheduled meets, the enhanced COVID control guidelines we have been handed by the national office makes us feel good about maintaining college athletics at a time when so many aspects of student life have ground to a halt.”
A July NJCAA decision pushed both women’s Volleyball and men’s basketball to spring seasons, though athletes in both sports are given a 60-day window for fall practices.
“We’ll use that time to implement and refine our COVID safety protocols,” says Ryan Riggan, SCC Recruiter and Associate Athletic Director. “Working with our maintenance director, we’ve developed a set of disinfecting protocols that will allow us to give these athletes a chance to experience college sports in the safest possible way.”
President John Dempsey set the tone for this COVID-prevention effort.
“If we can’t protect these athletes at the highest possible level, we won’t run our programs in 2020-2021,” he says. “It’s that simple. Their health and well being is our number one objective, not conference titles or championship runs.”
With that in mind, SCC plans to field six sports: fall cross country programs for men and women, women’s volleyball, men’s basketball, men’s golf, and women’s beach volleyball — a new sport to the SCC lineup. The NJCAA has set shortened schedules and altered championship events that push five of the six sports into a spring format.
That comes as good news for a group of returning athletes.
“We’re excited for the girls,” volleyball coach Alicia Riggan said. “It was looking like the women’s program would be a victim of the virus because NJCAA guidelines state it is a `fall only’ sport. “But with the increasing impact on programs nationwide, our national office saw the wisdom of giving us every possibility of preserving the season by allowing us a one-time push into a spring format.
“That means, we’ll be going back-to-back on women’s volleyball and women’s beach volleyball. It should prove both challenging and exhausting.”
Already, Jef Moody, the former SCC cross country coach whose athletes brought back top-three finishes in the sport’s national title race, has been working with a crew of runners who will enter under a new coach this fall. The stage is set for a total of four meets in September and October as preparation for the national title in Massachusetts in mid November.
In the meantime, a dizzying set of air handlers, foggers, and refined disinfecting procedures — along with closed-gym practices — will put The Hangar in top condition to serve as a safe environment for athletes.
“We have followed and exceeded every guideline NJCAA has asked of us,” Apple says, “and we are looking forward to having these scholar-athletes back on the SCC campus.”