2021 High School WBB - WM at Ouachita

Played at the Mad House on Nilhaven at OPHS, Monroe, La. 22Jan2021. Photo by TOM MORRIS/The Ouachita Citizen

Creativity became a valuable asset when basketball teams across the area faced a similar problem.

The issue that arose, of course, was keeping players in shape despite taking a week off of practice due to uncommon winter weather. For boys basketball teams, that presented a far from ideal circumstance two weeks ahead of postseason play. But for girls basketball squads, it presented an immediate issue — many teams are forced to begin their playoff journeys despite missing a full week of practice.

Thus, the pressure was on for girls basketball teams to adapt to an extreme circumstance, and Ouachita head coach Chrissy Givens went out of her way to overcome such icy obstacles.

First and foremost, Givens planned ahead. After suffering a double-digit loss to West Monroe Friday, Givens had her team meet up for practice over the weekend. The Lady Lions practiced Saturday and Sunday before departing for the week.

“We just looked ahead and thought we wouldn’t be able to meet during the week, so we asked our girls to come up here on the weekend,” Givens said. “I think that’s going to be (a huge advantage) because we did three hours on Saturday and about two and a half hours on Sunday. We talked through some stuff and were able to put everything in that we wanted to before our playoff game.”

While teams had to scramble to get a time and date with their opponent — Neville head coach Lorrie Guimbellot was still awaiting a response on Wednesday from No. 30 Rayne about a potential 6 p.m. playoff game Saturday — Givens also had the luxury of picking up her phone and calling her sister, Tillisha Wenslow, about their opening round matchup.

“It’s a blessing and a curse because we do know them. And hey, it’s easy to contact the coach. But it’s also a curse because my momma was taking it really hard the other day when she found out. She didn’t like the idea of one of us ending the other’s season,” Givens said.

The creativity swiftly followed for Ouachita’s game preparation. Givens, who is a certified personal trainer, believed the best course of action was to lead a zoom conference, where her girls would perform high intensity, low impact (HIIT) workouts.  

“You’re mostly doing stuff with body weight, time on and time off,” Givens said. “Some will get some Campbell’s soup or Powerade bottles in their hands for weights. Some will use water jugs. It’s kind of funny to watch, but you have to do what you have to do. The idea of that workout, which is something I’ve used in my playing career, is to go hard and work on recovery. That’s because you’ll have 10- to 15-second breaks at the free throw line and then go hard again. It helped me in my career, because it was hard to find places where I could just get up and down the floor.”

While Givens utilized Zoom, other coaches took to Hudl. West Monroe encouraged its players to watch film on Hudl and do the workouts posted to their best ability indoors.

“A lot of it is you’re just hoping your players do the right thing,” West Monroe head coach John Green said. “Coach (Lee) Morrow has typed up some little cardio workouts for them to do at the house, and they have video to watch on their opponent. Hopefully that cardio is being done, but with teenagers, you just never truly know.”

A benefit the Lady Rebels have — if you want to call it that — is that West Monroe played just one game over the course of five weeks earlier this season due to COVID-19 issues. So if anything, West Monroe has some experience with layoffs.

“I would think we’ve dealt with it more than most people,” Green said. “So at least they’ve dealt with it before. But we know it’s all about timing. The sun is supposed to be out Friday so maybe we have an opportunity to practice Friday. If not, we’ll just try and get the girls in here on Saturday before our game.”  

Of course, frustrations grew as the week unfolded, especially for veteran coaches like Neville’s Guimbellot and West Monroe’s Green.

Guimbellot, whose team entered the postseason with a 15-game win streak to earn the No. 3 seed in Class 4A, wanted her veteran group to get the best chance possible to make a run for the ages. That became problematic after the LHSAA sent a memo to principals and athletic directors on Monday that stated the deadline to play quarterfinal games would be Feb. 25. That means most teams would play a first-round game Saturday, turn around and play a second-round game the following Tuesday and then play a quarterfinal game on Thursday. Trying to fit three playoff games into a five-day window didn’t make a ton of sense to Guimbellot.

“This group I have has been to at least the quarterfinals each of the last few years and hasn’t lost a district game in over four years. I don’t want a situation where we’re rushed to get games in. Looking at these deadlines, I’m just kind of like, ‘Come on. Don’t do that to this group.’ But that’s just the old school coach in me,” Guimbellot said.

On the LHSAA’s website, the deadline for the quarterfinals is slated for Friday, Feb. 26, which, if holds true, would give teams one more day to prepare for the quarterfinal round. That would also force certain schools to deal with hosting multiple playoff games (boys and girls), which the LHSAA would like to avoid. 

As for the boys side, well, most of the head coaches could afford shutting down practice for a week, since postseason play is not slated to begin until Feb. 26.

Ouachita not only shut things down, but also struggled to find ways to keep the team in shape. Head coach Jeremy Madison had his eyes on Sunday for hopefully bringing the team back together.

“It’s just kind of limited right now,” Madison said on Wednesday. “It’s not like they can just run around with the weather like it is. We just have to hope they come back in somewhat decent shape.”

Neville boys coach Phillip Craig expected most teams to shut things down for the last week of the regular season. 

For Craig, the 2020-21 basketball season was simply the latest crazy chapter of a year that’s unlike any other in his 28 years of coaching.

“This has definitely been one of those years where you just did not know what to expect,” said Craig, whose Tigers are No. 6 in Class 4A. “Just around the corner, it feels like something new is happening that’s never happened before.”

Award-winning sports writer for columns and features since joining the field in 2013. As the first-ever featured columnist of the month at Bleacher Report, Martin cut his teeth with online media before joining the newspaper business in 2014.

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