Wednesday, March 10, 2021

COVID Brings Topsy-Turvey HS Basketball Season; Local Schools Pay The Price

Posted By on Wed, Mar 10, 2021 at 12:01 PM

In any other year, the boys’ basketball teams from Marana, Ironwood Ridge, Marana Mountain View, Amphi and Flowing Wells would all be headed to the state tournament. But this is the Year of the Pandemic, and not only are all five not going, NOT ONE of those teams is going. It’s an awful shame and it can be argued that it’s either nobody’s fault or the fault of a whole lot of people, many of whom have absolutely nothing to do with high-school sports.

Here in Arizona, high school basketball season generally starts up right after Halloween, with the first games being played the week of Thanksgiving. This season, things were initially pushed back to early January. But when the New Year arrived, the virus was raging. The Arizona Interscholastic Association, acting on health guidelines, initially canceled the winter sports season (basketball, wrestling and soccer).

After a public uproar, the AIA reluctantly relented, but went with strong COVID protocols, some of which called for the complete shutdown of programs if there was an outbreak. Teams would have to play at least 10 games to be considered for state. And then the AIA added one more thing for this season only: a reduction in the number of teams that advance to postseason play. The bigger-schools classes (6A, 5A, and 4A) have, for many years, had 24 teams advance to the playoffs. This year, that number was cut to 16.

The compressed season went on, with cancellations and re-scheduling all over the place. (The Ironwood Ridge girls played three games the first week of February, then shut down their season for good. On the girls’ side, Mountain View, Canyon Del Oro, and Marana managed to squeeze in nine, 10, and 11 games, respectively, with none coming close to going to state.)

The boys’ teams from Ironwood Ridge, Mountain View, and Marana sputtered along, with each facing hurdles ranging from roster reductions to complete shutdowns. Marana, for example, went two weeks in the middle of the season with no practice, games or contact of any kind. Those missed games would prove to be crucial. (Sierra Vista Buena played an unprecedented double-header the last day of the season to reach the 10-game threshold and advance to state.)

Heading into the final week of the regular season, Mountain View and Ironwood Ridge were both in the Top 16 of the Power Points, with Marana sitting at No. 18, within striking range. In an average season, the Power Points formula utilized by the AIA is a travesty. This year, it proved to be a total abomination. If any of the three aforementioned teams could win out that last week, they’d go to state.

Marana had four games scheduled in the final week—two relatively easy games on Monday and Friday sandwiched around vital contests, one at Ironwood Ridge and a home game with rival Mountain View. The Tigers had come out of the two-week layoff in mid-February and immediately had to face Mountain View at the Mountain Lions’ place. Mountain View won a tight one, but Marana bounced back and won their next four.

Heading into that final week, Tigers Coach Sean Roebuck was guardedly optimistic. However, right before the start of that crucial week, his team had played a game at Sunnyside and, after the game, a Sunnyside kid had tested positive. Due to the protocols, Roebuck was left with almost no varsity players. He had to bring up some kids from the freshman and JV teams. They squeaked out an overtime win at CDO, but then got clobbered the next night at Ironwood Ridge.

A couple days later, Roebuck got word that some of his quarantined players had been cleared to play. This did not sit well with people from Mountain View. The Mountain Lions had severely damaged their chances earlier in the week with an inexplicable loss to 3-11 Casa Grande. Now they were missing some players and, all of a sudden, Marana was almost whole.

The game was to be played in Marana’s older, smaller Alumni Gym because the big gym was being used for a boys’ volleyball game. Even with following the tight COVID protocols on fan attendance, there was a significant number of people in the stands. Well before the tipoff and then into the game, several Mountain View fans verbally expressed their displeasure with the fact that Marana had an almost-complete roster. It was…unpleasant. Marana won by 30.

(I asked one Mt. View booster—and Marana alum—if he thought that Roebuck would ever cheat. Silence. Then I asked, “And if he were going to cheat, why didn’t he do it against Ironwood Ridge the other night?” Louder silence.)

While all the Marana-Mountain View drama was unfolding, all Ironwood Ridge had to do was beat 4-9 Flowing Wells to put themselves in great position to go to state. You guessed it: Flowing Wells 62, Ironwood Ridge 58.

Marana won the next night, finished the turbulent season 8-4, and moved up to No. 18 in the Power Points. Ironwood Ridge, Mountain View and Flowing Wells would finish 22nd, 23rd and 24th, respectively. Thus ended a forgettable 5A season that no one is ever going to be able to forget.

Oh yeah: Amphi’s boys won their 4A Conference title, but due to a Pandemic Season quirk, didn’t advance to state.