Jaclyn Vander Waal — Staff Writer
Dordt University basketball players have always faced isolation from their friends and families during Christmas break due to the timing of their season, which stretches into the winter. This year is no different.
However, because Dordt plans to finish the fall semester online after Thanksgiving to combat the spread of COVID-19, winter athletes will remain on campus without the rest of the student body for five-and-a-half weeks, over three weeks longer than typical seasons.
“Not ideal, but we understand that the decision is for the greater good of the campus community, and we fully support it,” said Ross Douma, Dordt’s director of athletics and a member of the GPAC return-to-play task force. “We are just elated to have the opportunity to continue playing and competing as a team.”
Junior Riley VanHulzen, an elementary and special education major who plays as a forward on the women’s basketball team, said it is best to accept the situation for what it is.
“It’s kind of how you approach it, and it’s really about your attitude,” she said. “You can make it as fun as you want.”
The women’s team spends its time outside of practice bonding. They bake, watch movies, and complete service projects together.
Cade Bleeker, a sophomore business administration major and a guard on the men’s basketball team, said although the empty campus may be boring at times, it provides an opportunity for him to spend time with his teammates. His most vivid memories from last year were binge-watching long movie series and attending a Christmas party with his teammates.
In her past seasons, VanHulzen did not look forward to her fellow classmates leaving but discovered that she enjoyed the quiet campus by the time that they returned.
“We are like, ‘No, this is our campus. Geez, you can’t come back yet,’” she said with a grin.
Both VanHulzen and Bleeker said the biggest change this season will be the reduced number of fans due to COVID-19 restrictions and much of the campus being sent home for the remainder of the semester.
“It just kind of takes away the hype, which is a little bit sad, but it is the way it has to be,” VanHulzen said. “At the end of the day, that’s not why you should be playing anyway. That’s part of the environment that is so fun to play in, but it has to happen that way, and we know that.”
Bleeker said his team will create their own energy, regardless of the lack of fans in the stands.
“It starts right from when we get to the locker room,” Bleeker said. “We all love basketball, so we don’t need much to motivate us to get going.”
Despite the changes, the athletes are thrilled to begin their season.
“I’m just really excited to get to play because, going into it, we weren’t sure what the season was going to look like or if we’d even be able to play.” Bleeker said.
This semester VanHulzen questioned whether she would even be able to play this season. She frequently thought everyone on campus would be sent home due to spiking COVID-19 numbers, but it never happened.
Douma said the GPAC hopes to play 25 of the typical 30 games, with time left at the end of the season to have a cushion for postponed games.
The GPAC will make decisions about the season on a week-to-week basis. This decision will be made based on the athlete COVID-19 rates that are turned in every Monday by each team in the GPAC.
“Our staff and our student athletes have done a tremendous job of being adaptable and flexible during this time,” Douma said. “A great deal of time and effort has been put into providing a wholesome experience for our student athletes this year—as best as we possibly can.”