As positive COVID-19 cases surge across the country, winning basketball games is just one of the concerns for Villanova men’s and women’s basketball teams.
Amid all the challenges and uncertainty that come with navigating a basketball team during a global pandemic, Villanova’s men’s team (13-5, 6-2) has ripped off six wins over their last seven games and, more importantly, has largely stayed healthy. Only one men’s player, Caleb Daniels, has missed time due to COVID protocols, allowing the Wildcats to climb up the Big East standings.
Assistant coach George Halcovage says the team owes their ability to stay on the floor to team physician Michael P. Duncan.
“He’s been going through this with us since the start back in 2020,” said Halcovage. “With his leadership and guidance through the whole process, we’ve been able to manage it all.”
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Under Duncan, the team has learned how to best follow safety measures while still practicing and staying together as a team, all with minimal changes to the daily schedule. Other programs have been separating players in practices or practicing less overall in an attempt to limit player-to-player transmission. This is not the case for Villanova.
“We just do everything we can while we’re on the court to mitigate any risks while continuing to get better as a team,” said Halcovage.
The women’s team has also won six of seven, despite having had a more difficult time dealing with COVID-19. Games against UConn on Jan. 7 and Georgetown on Jan. 9 were postponed, as the team went into COVID lockdown. As a result, the Wildcats went 12 days without a game before playing DePaul on Jan. 14, exacerbating a spell where they played just four games in 33 days due to a combination of final exams, the holidays, and COVID-19.
Forward Brianna Herlihy, who has recorded a double-double in her last four games, emphasized the team’s frustration earlier this month after learning the news that basketball activities would be put on pause.
“The initial reaction was just a bit of anger honestly, like why is this happening again after all the ups and downs of last season,” said Herlihy.
Although the team returned to action against DePaul, Herlihy did not. That’s because the team’s third-leading scorer (11.7 ppg) had to watch the team’s past two games on TV while being quarantined after testing positive for COVID-19. Villanova split the weekend slate, losing to DePaul before bouncing back against Marquette.
“It was definitely hard to watch and not be there for them,” says Herlihy. “But I’m just proud of how they were able to go out there and compete after we missed six days worth of practice.”
Herlihy has been in constant contact with the team remotely, especially after the three-point road victory at Marquette.
The graduate student expressed extreme pride in the team’s victory despite only using three players off the bench, two of whom played under 10 minutes. Herlihy felt the Wildcats didn’t miss a beat playing two games in three days after such an extended break.
“I think everyone jumped back into it right away,” said Herlihy. “Basketball shape is very different than just being in shape, so it was definitely tough for the team to get back to practice and make sure they were game ready.”
Even while in protocols, Herlihy has shown veteran leadership amidst the obstacles of this 2021-22 season. It’s something Halcovage also stressed on the men’s side. Halcovage talked about how the coaching staff and team physicians can say and do all they want, but at the end of the day it all comes down to having accountability inside the locker room.
“We have great leaders in Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels, and Justin Moore, and they lead by example,” says Halcovage. “They’re serious about their game and our team, and it definitely impacts the rest of the team.”
The men will look to bounce back Saturday at Georgetown, while the women’s team hosts Providence on Friday night. One thing is for sure, they’ve already overcome more difficult obstacles this season.