There is an unfortunate new reality for basketball teams across Northern New Mexico in the early days of 2022. That reality is life with COVID. We’re just two weeks into 2022 and programs across the region have been forced to postpone, or even cancel, games because of COVID-19 cases within the program. It has brought on a new set of challenges for players and coaches, dealing with not just the physical side of things, but the mental and emotional side that the ongoing pandemic brings. It is hard enough to compete and win at a high level, and now teams across the region and state have a new challenge in front of them, navigating this new reality.
“After everything that went on last year, this season has been even more challenging,” Pecos girls head basketball coach Bryan Gonzales said. “This season has just been pretty, pretty rough.”
It’s not just about basketball, and perhaps Bryan Gonzales knows that better than anybody. His Lady Panthers team over at Pecos has been hit as hard as anyone this season. In the middle of December, they had to cancel games because of the situation within their team, and have had to do that again this week, canceling their games this Thursday and next Monday. The Lady Panthers are not the only team to feel the effects of this, even the NMHU Cowboys and Cowgirls basketball team had their games at Colorado School of Mines canceled last weekend in Golden because of COVID protocols. It’s something that’s been difficult, perhaps even impossible to avoid.
“It’s to the point where we’re really feeling for these kids,” Gonzales said. “Because if they’re not testing positive they’re exposed, it’s their friends and what’s kind of sad is that this is becoming a regular thing in their life and it’s not normal and it shouldn’t be happening.”
Las Vegas City Schools is feeling the effects of this as well, moving into distance learning for this week, and in turn putting their boys’ and girls’ basketball teams on pause until Monday, Jan. 17. All of this is done in an effort to keep the kids safe, and the coaches realize that it’s bigger than wins and losses on the court. Knowing that does not make this time any easier to navigate for coaches, players and administrators. Those in charge are just trying to do what is best for the kids, but there is no way to avoid the physical, mental and emotional toll this is taking on the kids. As fans or anyone outside the program, we can see any physical effects on the floor this may take just by watching the teams play, but coaches and those within these programs are having to see and deal with the emotional toll that this ever changing situation brings on the kids.
“I understand that the safety of our kids is paramount compared to anything else,” RHS head boys basketball coach James Branch said. “It’s tough because I finally had everybody back and starting to click and getting ready for district.”
Many of these teams have championship aspirations. The Lady Cardinals reached the state championship game last season, and currently sitting at 14-1 appear poised to return. The Lady Panthers are the defending state champions in 2A and have been getting better with each passing game but have hardly been able to have their full complement of players on the floor in recent weeks. The Cardinals boys team is currently on a four-game winning streak, and head coach James Branch has been clear about his goals for this group, a blue trophy. The Cardinals now, though, have their final two non-district games and their first district contest canceled because of COVID. It’s becoming increasingly difficult and perhaps impossible for coaches and players to focus on their on-court goals. Instead, the goal is just getting back on the floor playing games again.
“The main thing that I’m preaching to the girls is to stay healthy, we have to stay healthy,” RHS girls basketball head coach Jose Medina said. “When we come back next week hopefully we can jump right back into it and keep working hard and getting better.”
For programs around the state who have been forced into a pause the goals are no longer wins and championships. That has shifted, it is now about making sure everybody is safe, everybody is in a good place mentally and emotionally and making sure that they can get everybody back to playing again. One thing all the coaches said is that they just have to take things a day at a time. This new reality is an unfortunate one, but it’s what everybody is dealing with and it’s another obstacle for these teams to overcome in what is becoming an increasingly challenging season.