NVL pushes back start of games

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By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News

Woodland’s Ava DeLucia (25) and Kylie Bulinski (12) go up for the rebound with Holy Cross’ Jenna Mowad (12) during a Naugatuck Valley League girls basketball tournament game in Waterbury in February 2020. –REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN ARCHIVES

Winter sports practices began on schedule for Woodland and Naugatuck, but the Hawks and Greyhounds will have to wait a little bit longer than expected to finally get some real competition.

The CIAC allowed winter practices to begin Jan. 19 with a target date to start games and meets Feb. 8. In the Naugatuck Valley League, however, competitions won’t begin until Feb. 16.

The delay, according to Woodland athletic director Chris Decker, stems in part from situations at other schools still being in limbo. He said about half of the schools in the league didn’t start practice during the first allowable week — Waterbury schools, for one, won’t allow students back in its schools until at least Feb. 1 — so trying to schedule games for Feb. 8 was ill-advised.

The extra week bought extra time for players to shake off the rust that developed in the 2 1/2 months since the abrupt end of the fall sports season.

“We were told earlier by the NVL that our season would start pretty late, so we’re easing into it and focusing on conditioning first,” Decker said. “We have a lot of time. Part of the discussion [among NVL athletic directors] has been about easing athletes in and not rushing the schools who start later to rush into games.”

Still, a preliminary schedule circulated among league ADs Jan. 21 includes 12 basketball games and 10 swim meets per team, which meets the CIAC-allowed maximum for each sport, beginning Feb. 16.

Games will likely be played within divisions similar to the geographically based groups used in the fall. A one-week NVL postseason, the specifics of which have not yet been determined, would take place in the last week of March.

Decker noted that he’s confident that games will happen soon.

“I am very optimistic that we are going to play on Feb. 16,” Decker said. “Of course, I say that and we’ll probably get a huge snowstorm.”

One reason that inspires that confidence was the local schools’ COVID-related success during the fall season. Decker touted the Hawks’ precautions in helping avoid an outbreak that would have cancelled games for Woodland. Naugatuck was also successful in playing almost all of its scheduled contests. Naugatuck athletic director Brian Mariano could not be reached for comment.

“We were paramount in mask wearing and social distancing,” Decker said. “We’ve brought that same approach over to the winter. We have several coaches who understand that [from fall experience].”

Any positive COVID-19 case on a basketball team would likely result in a two-week quarantine for all players, Decker said, due to the close contact among all players.

“That should be the case with anybody in the NVL,” he noted.

Woodland girls basketball coach Jess Moffo, who has plenty of COVID-precaution coaching experience after running the girls summer conditioning program and serving as assistant girls soccer coach, echoed the sentiments of many when describing the team’s approach to this season.

“I am excited for the kids,” Moffo told the Republican-American. “They have been itching to get back on the court. They were very jacked up [after the Jan. 14 announcement]. It is a big step for us to be able to play. If we have to wear masks, then we have to wear masks. We are willing to do whatever we have to just to get back on the court. They want some sense of normalcy, and this is what they have been waiting for.”

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, Connecticut is one of 19 states in which masks are required during active basketball competition.

“I think they will have to play with their eyes a little bit more,” Moffo predicted. “We are going to practice that as best we can. We are going to prepare ourselves to be able to communicate with the masks as best we can. It is going to be a challenge and change the game. It is going to dictate a totally different pace of the game.”

“It’s going to be very challenging,” Woodland senior forward Ava DeLucia told the Republican-American. “It’s already going to be difficult coming into the season late not being in the best shape, and then the mask will just make it more challenging when trying to play. However, I think it’s important that we do wear them because I will do anything to be able to get back on the court.”

While no meets will be allowed for indoor track teams until March at the earliest, the CIAC gave the go-ahead for conditioning workouts in sports that were cancelled this winter — indoor track, wrestling, and competitive cheer and dance. Decker said Woodland will start its conditioning programs Feb. 1.