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Winter coaches react to start date for practice, season

File Photos Parkersburg South’s Noah Buckalew prepares for his next move during a 2019 regular-season event.

PARKERSBURG — The 2021 winter sports season is inching closer, and Governor Jim Justice’s announcement naming February 14 as the start date for practices to begin gives area teams a chance to prepare for this abbreviated season.

March 3 is the start date for the season itself, but those few weeks before March are key to making sure this season goes off without a hitch. Although several counties are in the red on West Virginia’s COVID-19 map, area coaches are excited to at least have the opportunity to practice.

Parkersburg girls head basketball coach Scott Cozzens saw his team on track to claiming its third consecutive state title before the season was halted last March. The window for the Big Reds is still open, as Cozzens talked about what it will take for this season to go on as planned.

“We’re excited about that. We view that as really good news,” he said. “I know a lot of the coaches are happy there is a solid date out there.

“We’re waiting to get started, and we’re fired up for it. I’m sure the girls will be excited to get back in. As a program, we haven’t had any basketball since they shut us down. Our three-week period was really restrictive on what we could do, then we only had four days of practice before we were shut down (late last year).”

Parkersburg High’s Sierra Mason runs a fast break possession during a 2019 regular-season game against rival Parkersburg South inside the Rod Oldham Athletic Center.

With March quickly approaching, decisions must be made about multi-sport student-athletes and if they will have an opportunity to participate in winter and spring sports simultaneously. The WVSSAC and coaches familiar with the situation say the two seasons will have to overlap, as Cozzens wants to work with his team to ensure they get the most out of the 2021 sports slate. Another decision has to be made about wanting to play basketball at PHS or on AAU teams.

“Some of them have some difficult decisions to make between playing for us or going to play for AAU,” he said. “That’ll be up to them. If West Virginia is going to follow the map like it did in the fall, I helped coach the volleyball team this fall. Every week was just us lining up to see if we could do anything. (The basketball team) was supposed to go to South Carolina and Delaware, this year. That got all nixed early on. We did try to pick up more teams in the state. We had some trips to the Eastern Panhandle planned this time, and hopefully we’ll be able to take those still. We’ll see how that works out, but that’s about all we can do.”

St. Marys boys head basketball coach Mark Barnhart detailed the meeting coaches had with WVSSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan and what it means for the near future. He said Justice’s announcement on practicing was only a week off from what Dolan proposed, as now there’s a level of certainty surrounding the start of the season.

“Honestly, it doesn’t really change much for us,” Barnhart said. “I feel way better about this, because it came from the governor. The first time Bernie was speculating, we didn’t know. He made it clear to us in his principals and ADs meeting that anything he decided was tentative before it went to the governor to be etched in stone. Now that this has come from the governor, I feel way better about it, honestly. When the coaches had a meeting with the SSAC, I believe we had our schedule set to March 5. That was based on what Bernie told us, and we all put it in pencil, because we knew it wasn’t etched in stone. I have more confidence now than I did.”

The relief felt by Barnhart gives him a chance to piece a plan together for his Blue Devils, as the teams waits in the wings alongside everyone else. A lot of Barnhart’s planning depends on what happens when the spring sports season starts, due to some of his players participating in other sports.

“Until I see everything etched in stone from Bernie about how we’re going to do the spring sports, I’m not going to say anything definitive to the team until I see a final draft. When is track going to start? When is baseball going to start? You’ve got to be careful with what you say, because to much of it is up in the air.”

From one LKC boys coach to another, Williamstown’s Scott Sauro is glad to see a potential return to the hardwood for his Yellowjackets.

“Obviously, there are different teams, but we have some of our same players from last year. We’re confident with the kids we have,” he said of WHS’s chances of making a run for the state crown in 2021. We know that the conference is good. There are a lot of other good teams, but we’re confident.”

Like other coaches around the area, Sauro is communicating with his team digitally, and he let his squad know about the announced practice date.

“We have an app called TeamSnap that we use to communicate with the guys. When the announcement came out today, I just sent out a message to all the guys to let them know they have a date to start practice on February 14,” he said. “We’re reminding them to stay in shape, so we can hit the ground running on February 14. It’s vital that the kids come to the start of practice in decent shape to be able to run. They’re not going to be in game shape, but there are certain things they can do with running and conditioning on their own that can give them a little bit of an advantage.”

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