A player on the men’s basketball team tested positive for COVID-19 Jan. 20, resulting in four game postponements and required quarantine for most of the team.
With 16 players now quarantining, the team can no longer meet for practice or games, putting a pause on the Bulldogs’ five-game winning streak and 10-1 conference record.
Every player tested negative for COVID-19 during the team’s weekly testing the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 19. Austin McBeth, assistant men’s basketball coach, said a player reported he wasn’t feeling well, but went to practice Tuesday afternoon suspecting his symptoms were a result of food poisoning. The player then tested positive for COVID-19 Wednesday, Jan. 20.
Head Coach Jeff Horner said one player will exit quarantine Monday, Feb. 1, another Tuesday, Feb. 2 and the rest return to the court on Wednesday, Feb. 3. Horner said there were two players on the team who weren’t required to quarantine at all because they tested positive for COVID-19 sometime in the last three months, which means they have a reduced chance of contracting the virus again.
“Almost all the other guys ended up going home so they get away from kind of everybody,” Horner said. “I think most of them are posted up in their basement at this point.”
McBeth said most players are attempting to stay in shape by exercising at home.
Standout forward Dylan Peeters is one of several players on the team who has returned home for quarantine. Peeters said the players are having to rely on personal training and using whatever equipment is at their disposal right now.
Staying in “basketball” shape is the priority right now for Peeters. Since he can’t be with his teammates to run through drills, Peeters has made the most of what he’s got between a personal set of weights in his garage and spending a good amount of time with the ball in his hands.
“Going out and shooting in my driveway in the cold, you know, you gotta do whatever you can to stay in shape,” Peeters said. “Especially at this point in the season.”
Peeters has also been in contact with a local gym back home to potentially use, allowing access to a wider variety of training opportunities during the nearly two-week quarantine.
Horner said he is still in the process of scheduling make-up games against Lindenwood University, the University of Missouri-St. Louis and McKendree University. The game against the University of Southern Indiana has been rescheduled for Monday, Feb. 15.
“We’re probably not going to be able to make up McKendree because they’ve been quarantined two or three times this year already, so they’re playing a ton of games,” Horner said. “We just don’t have a date that I think we’ll be able to make it up unless another team gets quarantined, and we can play.”
The team will likely be playing three times per week to make up for the games postponed for quarantine. The schedule will probably include games on Thursdays, Saturdays and Mondays.
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Horner said playing make-up games on Mondays allows for a break Tuesday followed by testing and practice Wednesday evenings, maintaining the 48-hour rule for testing before the next game.
“I’m kind of worried about not playing as many games as maybe USML or Southwest Baptist [University] who are right behind us in standings right now,” Horner said. “So it makes me nervous if we’re not able to make those games up.”
Horner said his goal is to host the first round of the GLVC Tournament at Truman as the highest seed, which is more difficult with fewer opportunities to increase their points in the GLVC rating system.
For returning players like Peeters, this isn’t his first time being on a team that has seen a tremendous amount of success. The sophomore guard was also with the team last season, which saw its third NCAA tournament bid in four years. However, because of COVID-19, the tournament was canceled.
Peeters said a big motivator this season has been the hope of getting back and partaking in the tournaments the team was stripped of last season. The Bulldogs also split the GLVC regular-season championship and won the conference tournament in the 2019-20 season.
Peeters said this year especially, the team’s success has revolved around the balance their roster has. He explained that there isn’t necessarily a standout player, but rather they set each other up for success and each player has their role to play.
“If you get Cade [McKnight] going down low, he’s hard to guard down there, and then once teams start to double or key in on him, we can kick it out and we have Masen [Miller], Turner [Scott], Elijah [Hazekamp] and Hunter [Strait] all making shots on the outside,” Peeters said.
Despite the personal and team success, Peeters said it has been a particularly difficult season.
Despite the typical mentality of focusing on the moment, it’s been even tougher to do so this season due to the uncertainty of COVID-19.
“When you start looking ahead and thinking about ‘What ifs’ you get kinda sidetracked,” Peeters said. “It’s been harder to stay focused on what’s at hand rather than what could happen in the future.”
Horner said the Bulldogs were playing their best basketball all season before quarantining. He said, in general, he’s been telling the players to be ready to adapt to be successful.
Horner said the team will not have the chance to practice much before their first game back. The Bulldogs will practice as a team Wednesday evening, the first day the players can all be together, then face the University of Indianapolis on Thursday. However, Horner said he wasn’t too concerned because the team has skill beyond the starting lineup.
Despite the time away from the court, Peeters said the return likely won’t be as hard as someone might think. As long as everyone keeps putting in their share and the team stays healthy, not much should change moving forward, Peeters noted.
“We can’t take any game for granted, and nothing’s promised,” Peeters said. “So we just go into every game like it’s our last and we wanna go out and make the most of it each and every day.”
Horner and McBeth said they expected a positive COVID-19 case would happen sometime this season, but are grateful to have played half the season before facing any issues.
The coaching staff also said the health and safety of the student-athletes remains the top priority.
“We’ve done everything we can to be really responsible and we constantly tell our guys to stay away from each other, to socially distance, which is hard enough … it’s just really hard to keep up and do everything right,” McBeth said. “Even when you do, sometimes stuff like this happens so it’s just something we’re going through.”