Ohio State relieved to play again, getting back up to speed COVID-19 pause
Twenty-five days passed since the Ohio State women’s basketball team last played a game before Monday, when the No. 16 Buckeyes beat Penn State 82-69.
After a COVID-19 outbreak shut down the program for multiple weeks and forced one game to be canceled and the first three Big Ten games to be postponed, by no means were the Buckeyes in peak physical shape. So putting a notch in the win column to start the conference season was a bonus.
“The thing I focused on the most (with the players) was don't expect it to be perfect, don't expect it to be the way it was the last time we played,” coach Kevin McGuff said after the game. “Just play really hard, play together and continue to fight through whatever comes at us.”
Ohio State is still dealing with players who are unavailable, including top scorer and rebounder Dorka Juhasz. McGuff said he couldn’t put a specific timeline on when Juhasz, Rebeka Mikulasikova and Rikki Harris — who were listed as “unavailable” Monday — would return.
It’s unknown how many players or staff members had COVID-19 because the university does not disclose specific figures, but it was enough to prevent the team from playing for nearly a month. McGuff was adamant that the Buckeyes had been extremely careful, saying there’s nothing they would have done differently as a program to prevent the spread of the virus.
“We didn't have any hint of it for the whole school year so far,” McGuff said. “Our kids have been very vigilant, extremely committed to doing everything they can to avoid it and to keep it out of our program. It's just so widespread right now it's just really difficult.”
Once players are cleared to return to practice, the challenge begins for McGuff. He and his staff must balance an individual player’s workload while also preparing the team and trying to return to the level of fitness players were before the outbreak.
“I feel bad for these kids because we were in as good as shape as we've ever been at any point during my tenure as head coach,” McGuff said. “I hated for them that we kind of had to give back something that they've worked so hard to obtain with their conditioning levels. But it is what it is. You want to compete and play basketball in the middle of a pandemic, it's not going to be a smooth ride.”
Ohio State’s next game is scheduled for Thursday at Illinois before returning home to play Rutgers on Sunday.
With the threat of the virus canceling more games in the future, sophomore guard Jacy Sheldon said the team can’t do anything other than approach each game like it did against Penn State.
“Everybody going through it, so keeping the right mentality is super important, and taking advantage of every game that we're able to play,” Sheldon said. “You never know, our next game could get canceled or anything.”