Mount St. Mary’s basketball coaches Dan Engelstad and Maria Marchesano were on pins and needles Tuesday night as they each awaited one last coronavirus test result for their teams.
The men’s and women’s teams at the Mount have not played a game in a month after both of their seasons were suspended on two occasions by positive COVID-19 tests.
“It’s one of those things when you get a call from someone at school, you know something is probably about to change,” said Marchesano, who is in her fourth season as the head coach of the women’s team at the Mount. “You know it’s either bad news or something with the schedule is about to change.”
On this particular occasion, the news happened to be good for both teams. Both of those final tests came back negative for the virus.
So, the two teams at Mount St. Mary’s will be back on the floor Thursday for the first of back-to-back games against Northeast Conference opponent St. Francis Brooklyn.
But the status of the rest of their seasons remains tenuous. More positive tests on their teams or an opposing team could postpone or wipe out future games on the schedule.
“Just like the rest of the world, you are dealing with the stop and go,” said Englestad, who is in his third season as the men’s coach at the Mount. “It’s not normal. We are used to preparing and knowing when you are going to play and the opponent and putting the amount of work and effort into it.”
The Mount men (2-3, 1-0 NEC), who have not played since Dec. 8, will play at St. Francis Brooklyn (2-3, 2-2 NEC) at 4 p.m. Thursday and then again on Friday at the same time.
To limit travel and potential exposures to the virus, the NEC has implemented a back-to-back scheduling format this season that requires teams to face each other on consecutive days at the same venue.
The Mount women (1-2) — who have not played since Dec. 5, have yet to play a conference game and have yet to face a back-to-back scenario — host St. Francis Brooklyn (1-3, 1-3 NEC) at Knott Arena at 7 p.m. Thursday and 4 p.m. Friday with no fans in attendance.
“I know our girls are excited and are going to bring a lot of energy to the floor,” Marchesano said.
On Dec. 7, the Mount women were on a bus to College Park, where they were scheduled to get tested and then play the University of Maryland the following day.
But the bus was forced to turn around after the team learned on the ride down that an earlier test that week had come back positive. The person who tested positive was asymptomatic.
“It was gut-wrenching,” Marchesano said.
Coaches and players on every team are tested three times a week, per NCAA protocols.
A positive test means there can be no in-person team activities for seven days and no games for 12 days. The person that tests positive must quarantine away from the team for 10 days.
So far, the women’s team at the Mount has reported six positive tests, three of which occurred before the start of the season. Since the start of the season, two players and a coach have tested positive, and there were no symptoms exhibited in each of the in-season cases.
The men’s team, meanwhile, has reported two positive cases, and both were asymptomatic.
Both Marchesano and Engelstad said their teams have been diligently following COVID-19 protocols, and that the positive tests were chance occurrences rather than a violation of policy.
“There were no breakdowns in protocols whatsoever,” Engelstad said.
So far, the Mount men have canceled games against UMBC (Dec. 11), St. Joseph (Dec. 19) and Howard (Dec. 22), while postponing a pair of games against Wagner on Dec. 15 and 16.
The team has not played since a 75-57 win over NEC rival St. Francis (Pennsylvania) on Dec. 8 at Knott Arena.
Meanwhile, the Mount women have had even more interruptions with their schedule.
The Mount women have canceled games against Coppin State (Dec. 2), Maryland (Dec. 8), La Salle (Dec. 12) and Hofstra (Dec. 12), while postponing games against Wagner on Dec. 15 and 16 and St. Francis (Pennsylvania) on Dec. 19.
The team has not played since a 72-58 home win over UMBC on Dec. 5.
“It’s tough,” Marchesano said. “Keeping in contact with staff and keeping normal ... routines is definitely tough when you are stuck at home and can’t go in. It’s kind of a helpless feeling. At the same time, everyone is going through it.”
During the mandated time away from each other, the teams have conducted Zoom meetings between players and staff.
The Mount also hired a company to run a Zoom trivia game between the men’s team and the women’s team.
“Nobody on the men’s team won,” Engelstad said.
But the desire to get back on the court is real for both teams, and they are grateful they will have that chance Thursday.
“A lot of it is out of your hands,” Engelstad said. “You can’t place blame with this thing. You follow the protocols, you do the best you can and you know it might not be you that shuts your season down. You might be preparing for a game, and the other team can’t play. It goes back to being flexible. There are a lot of life lessons that can be taught during this crazy time.”