Peninsula College’s Nate Despain, center left, and Malik Moore, center right, fight for a rebound surrounded by Bellevue defenders Trey Lawrence, back, Trevon Richmond, front left, and Tijohn Rodde, front right, in February at Peninsula College in Port Angeles. Despain, a 2019 Sequim High grad, and the Pirates saw their 2020-2021 season pushed back to March 1. File photo by Keith Thorpe/Olympic Peninsula News Group

Peninsula College’s Nate Despain, center left, and Malik Moore, center right, fight for a rebound surrounded by Bellevue defenders Trey Lawrence, back, Trevon Richmond, front left, and Tijohn Rodde, front right, in February at Peninsula College in Port Angeles. Despain, a 2019 Sequim High grad, and the Pirates saw their 2020-2021 season pushed back to March 1. File photo by Keith Thorpe/Olympic Peninsula News Group

NWAC: No 20-21 athletic championships, basketball delayed

March Madness, indeed.

The Northwest Athletic Conference announced on Dec. 11 that no NWAC championships will be played — for any sport season — this academic year and that basketball season will be pushed back to March 1.

The NWAC decision, which came from an executive board meeting on Dec. 10, allows for region play only. The North Region will amend its basketball schedule, pushing it back from Feb. 20 to March 1, and review the soccer schedule in the coming week, according to Rick Ross, Peninsula College’s Associate Dean for Athletics and Student Life.

Ross is serving as region chair.

“I know this was a difficult decision for the conference, but with Oregon colleges currently not allowed to play indoor sports anad the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission impacting our efforts to compete, I think it’s a very wise move,” Ross said last week.

“We desperately want what our student athletes want, the opportunity to play and to get better, but I think this provides us an avenue to pursue that in the safest possible way. If you can’t win a title, players and coaches across the NWAC are more likely to report minor symptoms of illness. That makes all of us safer.”

Peninsula College has amassed 11 NWAC championships and 20 league titles in the past 10 years despite competing as the smallest community college in the conference.

“This is a tough year; we have great returning athletes and a great recruiting class in both basketball and soccer, and our coaches work very hard to bring high quality teams to our community,” Ross said.

“It’ll be a shift now to focus more on player development, than winning another championship trophy, but the good news is that we’ll have many of these athletes back in 2021-22.”

There could still be a North Region cup or title, Ross said,, if the sports committees are allowed to hold a post-season region tournament.

He added that prospects for the 2021-22 athletic season looks promising. The NWAC, and the entire NCAA, are not counting 2020-21 toward eligibility, so college athletes have a “free year.”

“The good news is that we’ll have some very talented three-year sophomores next year and we’ll have the opportunity to have more total student athletes on scholarship,” Ross said. “The bad news, or rather the challenge .will be to fund raise for those additional scholarships during this pandemic. We’re really hoping our loyal Pirate boosters will come through. We need them now more than ever.”

Pirate athletes are scheduled to arrive back to Port Angeles on Jan. 3 and will quarantine for 14 days before beginning small-group workouts in mid-January with their roommates, before moving to full team workouts in February.

The NWAC has released a return-to-play manual, to be posted to their website Monday, that all colleges are required to follow. It outlines, in detail, what activities coaches and athletes are allowed to engage in, as well as how to respond to symptoms or positive COVID-19 cases.

Peninsula’s esports athletes, meanwhile, who are not part of the NWAC, competed fall quarter both from home and from the College’s esports arena as a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association Esports conference.

They too will quarantine for 14 days, then resume play winter quarter.

“We just have to stay positive and know that this is bump in the road,” Ross said.

“We’re very committed to creating a positive collegiate athletic experience for our student athletes, and also to doing it in a safe way. We still have great coaches, great athletes and great college and community support.

“I can’t wait to see them on the court, and on the field, and in our esports arena again winter quarter — with my mask on, of course.”

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