‘Frustrated’ UMass athletes keeping eyes on end of pause

  • Employees at UMass clear the snow off a multi-use turf athletic field after the snow earlier this week. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Employees at UMass clear the snow off a multi-use turf athletic field after the snow earlier this week. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/12/2021 2:22:38 PM

Sam Breen’s dog, Turbo, has more leeway to leave her apartment than the UMass’ senior forward.

Under the university’s “high risk” COVID-19 posture, students are required to self-sequester except for COVID testing, to get food or medical necessity. That means no outdoor exercise or walks.

Turbo keeps Breen company. The mini Aussiedoodle just got a haircut. They play in the hallway, and Breen uses his bathroom trips as a means to briefly venture outside.

“He’s kept me sane,” said Breen, the leading scorer on the UMass women’s basketball team at 17.4 points per game.

The quarantine has hit UMass’ student athletes, who have been on campus longer than the general student population, hard. The school’s athletic programs paused all team activities Sunday, which halted practices and games for a minimum of two weeks. The news came through as the women’s basketball team was preparing to face George Mason.

“Frustrated is the perfect word to encapsulate it,” Breen said. “I woke up for shoot around and got that news. It was tough to swallow.”

The news came on the heels of a Massachusetts Daily Collegianreport about two large parties the weekend before the spring semester began. UMass announced Tuesday that the fraternity is on interim suspension. There were 448 confirmed positive cases Monday.

“It’s tough because obviously we are part of the student population. Even though our team in particular hasn’t had a positive case, it’s tough to separate us and treat us differently,” Breen said. “All in all it hurts the same.”

The two-week pause canceled 14 games among the men’s and women’s basketball and soccer programs. UMass’ ice hockey team, ranked ninth in the country, lost one scheduled game during the week and likely two weekend series, since Hockey East schedules its games on a rolling basis depending on which teams are available to play.

The men’s basketball team was supposed to play two nationally televised games this week: Tuesday against Dayton at home then against VCU in Richmond, Va., on Friday. Instead, the Rams were shifted to face St. Bonaventure in a clash of the Atlantic 10’s top two teams.

“You look at our record, we should be in that game,” UMass coach Matt McCall said.

This is the third time the men’s basketball team has paused. The Minutemen haven’t had a positive test within the program for the past two pauses.

“It’s extremely frustrating. We had our own COVID cases on our team, and now it’s because people wanted to go to a party. We just had two big wins, had a big week lined up,” UMass senior center Mark Gasperini said. “We were looking forward to it then got stopped as we were getting traction. At the same time, all year has been about focusing on what we can control. We’ve just got to keep going.”

The winter sports programs all have conference tournaments scheduled in March. Hockey East will host its conference tournament at campus sites of the higher-seeded teams beginning March 10. UMass is the third seed currently, but the Minutemen haven’t played since Jan. 30.

“It’s unfortunate our student athletes have to go on pause because of the decision of other students who don’t have as much to lose. It’s very frustrating for all of us,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “We’re concerned about what testing results are going to be for the next week because that’ll determine if our season is allowed to restart. We need it to.”

The A-10 will host its women’s basketball championships at VCU on March 3-7. The men’s basketball tournament will also be in Richmond, Va., co-hosted by VCU and Richmond from March 10-14. The conference previously announced a 13-game minimum threshold to qualify for the tournament.

UMass’ women’s team has already played 15 games. The Minutewomen (10-5) are seventh in the A-10 standings after a three-game losing streak. They have two games still on the schedule.

“Better now than the actual week of the tournament, because that would really stink,” Breen said. “We’re really optimistic in getting those last two home games in and having our fingers crossed to play those last two games.”

The men’s team is at 11 with two games scheduled over the next two weeks. The Minutemen (7-4) are fourth in the conference standings. 

“There’s so many teams that are either paused right now or who have been paused. The league has to look at that (minimum),” McCall said. “I’m optimistic that we’ll play a few more games before the league tournament. A lot of that’s out of our control. Now it’s about how can we be creative and get back to work in some capacity.”

While sequestered in their apartments, UMass’ student athletes have focused on schoolwork. They’ve caught up on TV series and played video games. Gasperini prefers FIFA, but most of his teammates are into NBA 2K. UMass’ strength coaches and trainers provide them with workouts they can perform in their rooms to stay in shape.

Coaches and teammates regularly check in with each other through text or video chat.

“It’s super weird, super boring,” Breen said. “The good part is we do have class now, so that’s able to pass a lot of time.”

Breen is in the graduate media, learning and technology program. She’s interested in photography and would eventually like to run her own business.

“I find myself sitting here for, I feel like it’s an hour, and it’s three or four,” Breen said.

They’ve settled into the routine after the first week. Next comes the question of how long it will last.

“The first week is not so difficult to deal with. Being able to take your foot off the gas is not a big problem,” Carvel said. “It’s the second week when people start getting itchy and wanting to be productive.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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