Wright State’s Merriweather bracing for ‘roller-coaster’ season

Wright State women’s basketball coach Katrina Merriweather (center). Wright State Athletics photo

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Wright State women’s basketball coach Katrina Merriweather (center). Wright State Athletics photo

Raiders’ first two games canceled due to COVID-19

With the uncertainties of the coronavirus, Wright State’s Katrina Merriweather prepared herself to roll with the punches this season — not only for her own sanity, but to model it for her players.

But the fifth-year women’s basketball coach had to deal with a couple of roundhouses maybe sooner than she expected with the Raiders’ first two games being canceled because of COVID-19.

Her team is down to seven healthy players, most of whom have practiced only sporadically, which is why the home opener Wednesday against Toledo was shelved. And then Butler contacted the school and said it didn’t have enough players to host their Nov. 29 game.

The next scheduled games are Dec. 2 at home against Bradley and Dec. 6 at Michigan. The Horizon League season starts at Detroit with back-to-back games Dec. 12 and 13.

“It’s really unfortunate for the kids,” Merriweather said. “It’s a roller-coaster. I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault. It’s the nature of where we are.

“All we’re doing right now is making sure we take care of them mentally and then make sure we have a plan to keep them as active as possible, so, when they get back, we can keep them free from injuries.”

Merriweather isn’t all that confident the Raiders will get even one non-league game in.

League protocols say anyone who’s already had the virus — that’s eight players at Wright State — are cleared for 90 days. But that doesn’t mean Bradley will be able to suit up when the time comes.

Plus, Merriweather said: “We’re all waiting to hear the Power-5 announce they’re not going to play non-conference and they’re going to push back their conference games until after Christmas. Those rumors are floating around,” she said.

The season could consist of the 20 league games and the conference tournament. Teams need to play a minimum of 13 games to be eligible for the NCAA tourney.

Asked if she could see a conference-only season, Merriweather said: “I think there’s a great chance for that. And honestly, I wouldn’t mind it.

“One thing I try to remind people is, as an athlete, it’s not fun to play unprepared. It’s not fun to play out of shape. It’s not whether everybody is out of quarantine by the time we’re supposed to play a game, but whether they’re going to get enough practices in where they feel good about playing.

“These 14-day quarantines are taking a huge toll on athletes all over the country when they’re sitting in their rooms for 14 straight days.”

The physical part is only one element, too.

“The people I feel for worst for — coaches can coach as long as they want, whether it’s college, high school, middle school or biddy ball — it’s the players who only have a limited time to play. And we want them to have amazing memories and not look back and say, ‘Oh, wow, I didn’t have fun. That was miserable.’ We’re trying to prevent that as much as we can,” Merriweather said.

“It’s tough. We’re Zoom calling. We’re dropping off food and treats. We’re doing as much as we can to keep their spirits up.”

The NCAA and other governing bodies have set a high bar for playing this season, testing players and team personnel three times per week and then putting anyone with a positive result — and those who haven’t yet tested positive — in quarantine.

While Merriweather understands the necessity of the measures, that doesn’t mean they’re easy to navigate.

“I’m just really, really frustrated with the thought we can have a season with all the testing,” she said. “Clearly, the NCAA and CDC — there’s all these moving parts. And it’s like, I’ve got a freshman who says to me, ‘I’ve been here for three months, and I’ve been in my room for 42 days.’ It’s really, really difficult for me.

“Everybody is doing everything they can — there’s not finger-pointing here, there’s no blame. It’s just really hard to take care of these kids when you can’t hug them, when they can’t come out of their room. You’re trying to remind them how important they are and how much you value and care about them on Facetime.

“Honestly, I’m far more concerned about that than if we ever play a game.”

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