In the weeks leading up to tryouts, Hingham girls’ basketball coach Eugene Buczynski was concerned the overall vibe of the first day back might elicit some apprehension and overthinking among players and coaches.
Once the Harborwomen finally got on the court — after socially distancing in the hallway, sanitizing their hands and basketballs, and while wearing masks the entire time — Buczynski’s uncertainty quickly subsided.
“It was awesome,” he said. “It was like, ‘Let’s go.’ It sounded like practice. It felt like practice.”
The Harborwomen, who are fresh off a trip to the Division 2 South final, were one of many teams around the state to hold Day 1 of tryouts Monday in an abbreviated, COVID-19 challenged season that will not conclude with a state tournament.
Fellow Patriot League member and Division 2 South force Pembroke also got under way, and coach Tim Lopes said he was “really pleasantly surprised” with how smoothly players coped with the regulations.
“The kids are so used to everything now, the distancing, the mask-wearing, and the hand sanitizing, that they just rolled right with it,” Lopes said.
Both coaches said the biggest adjustment was wearing masks while playing, and they expect that the additional heavy breathing will subside once players acclimate to the new normal.
At 2:30 p.m. Monday, Wellesley AD John Brown, his staff, and members of the girls’ basketball team began the tedious process of moving 198 desks out of the gymnasium — currently being utilized during school hours for classes to aid in socially-distanced teaching — for a practice session scheduled from 3-5:15 p.m. under the direction of interim coach Dwayne Powell. When the girls were done, the custodians went to work sanitizing the gym in advance of the boys’ practice from 6-8:30 p.m. with coach Mike Reidy. The boys were then responsible for placing all of the desks back in the gym, where the custodians were tasked with one more cleaning to prep for Tuesday classes.
“We’ll do this every day, and we’re going to do it right,” said Brown, who had to put together plan, and a new girls’ coaching staff quickly after basketball was given the green light by the school committee last Tuesday night. “We have maps and charts to make the desk plan work.”
In neighboring Natick, girls’ basketball coach Dan Hinnenkamp welcomed 32 candidates to the first of three days of tryouts,. which he described as quiet, atypical to when the gym is also occupied with wrestlers (shifted to spring) and indoor track athletes (moved to Fall II).
“Obviously, the big noticeable [change] is the kids were wearing masks the whole time,” he said. “One of the things we did do differently was we had hand sanitizing stations at four different locations, so throughout the courts. I know one of the rules with the MIAA, when the games start, is any time you come on or off the court, you’ve got to sanitize your hands.
“But it was good positive energy.”
Bridgewater-Raynham girls’ coach Cheryl Seavey said planning for Day 1 was certainly different. “I’m meticulous in my preparation, and that starts with my practice plan,” said Seavey, who guided the Trojans to the Division 1 South title last March and returns two-time All-Scholastic Shay Bollin, who has committed to Duke. “I think I went through ten drafts before I settled on one today because I really wanted to be cognizant of all the guidelines set forth by the [basketball] committee and make sure that we were meeting all of the requirements.”
“We recognize that this is a gift, being able to play. So I wanted to make sure, and I will continue to make sure on my end, that we are meeting all the guidelines set forth by the MIAA.”
BC High coach Bill Loughnanehas been a part of tryouts for 50 straight years as a player or coach. The former Northeastern great was worried about getting this season started, but was surprised to see 30 players show up for tryouts, the largest contingent he’s had in eight years at BC High.
“Even the thought of not being able to [practice] was disheartening,” said Loughnane. “I was thrilled to be back in the gym and the kids were thrilled. Believe it or not, you could see some smiles even though they had masks on. It doesn’t matter what protocols we have to follow, there’s basketball being played.”
Coming off the most successful season in program history, Beverly boys’ coach Matt Karakoudas was eager to keep the momentum going. He was surprised to see just 11 freshmen show up on the first day of tryouts, whereas usually 30-plus freshmen come out, but said the number sophomores and upperclassmen were as expected.
With his team broken into six cohorts, Karkoudas said things felt a little different, but he expressed optimism that his players would get used to the new protocols and that his young team could thrive under the circumstances.
“It could work in our favor in the sense that we’re so young and there’s not a lot of pressure on them,” said Karakoudas. “They’re going to be so psyched just to be out there on the floor and not at home playing video games that once we actually start practicing with the team, it will be easy to get back to the excitement of last season.”
At the Canton Ice House, Matt Sebet had his Westwood boys’ hockey team on a clean sheet of ice at 5 a.m. Monday. “Most likely the first stride across the state,” said Sebet. “it was great to just get the opportunity to get back out there after all the uncertainty looming for months.”
Players, who arrived to the rink dressed in uniform, filled out a contact tracing questionnaire upon entry, and socially distanced chairs were set up to put on skates — pretty much similar for every team and every rink.
“I think the players are used to it since their fall teams resumed when the state opened up the rinks again in November,” Sebet said. “They all wore their masks the entire time and seemed to adjust to it well.”
Ray Monroe, coach of the Billerica/Chelmsford girls’ co-op, said masks and all, there was a sincere excitement to actually back on the ice.
“Kids need this — it’s huge for their mental health and you could see the effect of it Day 1,” Monroe said.
The setup at Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton, according to St. Joseph Prep boys’ coach Rob Dwyer, was fantastic. Upon entering the facility, players were able to fill out contact tracing info on their phones or iPads that had been set up. Chairs were set up in the hallway for each player to sit and stay apart.
“Most of the guys have been itching to get back on the ice since February and it was awesome to finally get everyone together,” said Dwyer.
“They all fully understood it’s a different year and many new challenges, but having been through fall leagues they did a fantastic job.”
Added Newton South boys’ coach Chris Ryberg: “Each year the first day of tryouts is typically one of our most spirited skates and this morning was no exception. Was great to be back on the ice with our group, lots of smiling faces, looking forward to Day 2.”
Steve Noll, girls’ coach at Sandwich, echoed the thoughts of many. “Today was a positive day, many of the players are very accustomed to the rinks protocol and the new MIAA guidelines,” he said.
“Like the players I am thrilled that we were able to have a start date and we all need to do our part to keep the sports up and running and safe.”
Craig Larson of the Globe staff and correspondents Jim Clark, Matt Doherty, Nathaniel Weitzer, and Ethan Fuller also contributed.