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Practice in Full Swing For West Virginia Winter Sports

Teams return to courts and pools in West Virginia

Photo by Kyle Lutz The Wheeling Park girls’ basketball team practices on Wednesday. This is the first week of winter sports practice in West Virginia for all high school teams.

It’s been a long time coming, but the West Virginia High School winter sports season is finally here. At the beginning of the week, schools were able to hold first official practices. Each team has two weeks to practice before the regular season gets underway in March.

Mother Nature, though, reared her ugly head as many local schools canceled practices on Monday due to weather making athletes wait one more day to get back to the grind.

And just like every year, winter sports will have to deal with the weather. However, in 2021, there are going to be a few more factors that teams will have to deal with across the state.

“Even back in November when we had four practices, we were in yellow, so we couldn’t scrimmage. The last two days were really the only time we’ve been able to scrimmage,” Wheeling Park girls basketball coach Ryan Young said. “We talked about the weather (Tuesday) with the kids. We’re going to have possible COVID issues. You’re going to have weather issues and injuries. You’re going to have everything you have in a season and more on top of that. Our mentality is move forward together.”

While the basketball teams couldn’t scrimmage, the Wheeling Park swim teams were less than a week away from their first meet.

With the first meet just days away, it was announced winter sports were going to be put on hold.

“I’m really excited for our athletes to get back into the pool,” Wheeling Park girls coach Meredith Hahn said. “There was a concern there for a while if swimming was going to happen. We started in October and we were shut down six days before our first swim meet. We’re really just excited to have the kids back in the pool.”

And while the pool at Wheeling Park was closed, swimmers on the team had to find pools that were open to stay in shape so when the season did start, they could pick up where they left off.

“A lot of our guys went all over town. We had guys at the YMCA, we had guys at Four Seasons,” Wheeling Park boys swimming coach Mike Cook said. “A lot of our guys didn’t stop swimming, they just stopped swimming here (at Park pool). We have some very talented upper level kids who aspire to go to the next level or are signing to go to the next level and they just can’t stop. It doesn’t work that way for them. You just do the best you can for what you got. We’re ecstatic to be back.”

While teams are still following proper COVID protocols, the fact that players are able to practice brings some sense of normalcy. One could argue it did last week as well as teams were able to condition together before having official practices.

“Last week we had the conditioning session, which was a good step. We’re fortunate and very appreciative we got those in,” Wheeling Park boys basketball coach Michael Jebbia said. “It feels good. This is our second day of tryouts. It’s just a little bit more feeling of normal and it’s something to look forward too. We’ve also been hit with this weather for the past couple of weeks. We’ve had a lot of obstacles. But I think we’re going to get in the clear here soon. The guys are excited and have great energy. They’re really happy to be back.”

In typical 2020-21 fashion, other coaches took to zoom when practice was canceled on Monday for their first “virtual practice” in what turned out to be an interesting but memorable experience for John Marshall girls coach Brock Melko and his team.

“It went pretty well,” Melko said. “We only met for a half hour but we just went over the team rules, set goals, talked about expectations and was able to send them schedules and send them the playbook virtually and we broke that down a little bit.

“The last 10 minutes we did some cardio. We had different people doing different things. We had some on treadmills, some were running in place, doing push ups, situps and jumping jacks — just anything to break a sweat.”

If weather becomes a factor over the next two weeks and more practices get canceled, Melko and other schools could also be granted extra Sunday practices — or games once the season starts — by the WVSSAC.

“We requested through the SSAC to practice this Sunday and next Sunday just in case so we can afford two more snowouts,” Melko said. “We got their approval but we’re going to try to avoid that. We don’t want to do too much too quick but they are there if we need them.”

Despite the condensed schedule, COVID protocols, delayed season and the weather, kids are just happy to be back.

“We just finished our second practice and the atmosphere is really positive,” Cameron boys coach Tom Hart said. “It was more of a family atmosphere than a practice. All the guys were really supporting each other and were simply fans of their own teammates.

“We had to chance the structure of practice a bit. Things we’re normally working on Day 6 or 7, we are doing on Day 1 and 2 now but our returning players are picking up on stuff and they are helping us push through. They’re itching to get started.”

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