Basketball, men’s tennis teams kick-start Trinity’s spring seasons

First games in 10 months return some sense of normalcy to Trinity

Last weekend, the men’s and women’s basketball teams traveled to Houston to face the University of St. Thomas while the men’s tennis team hosted Rice University. Most years, that sounds like a typical January weekend at Trinity. However, after the uncertainties that 2020 and 2021 have brought, what in the past was a given is now quite the milestone.

For the Tigers, that milestone is competing against other schools for the first time in 10 months. After Trinity athletics shut down in response to the growing COVID-19 cases last spring, both the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) and Southern Athletic Association (SAA) announced the cancellation of games for the fall 2020 semester midway through the summer, forcing Trinity’s teams to take a nearly year-long hiatus from intercollegiate competition.

Those who live and breathe Tiger sports saw that hiatus end last Friday and Saturday in Houston. Women’s Basketball swept both games against the St. Thomas Celts while Men’s Basketball split two games with their SCAC rivals. For junior guard Ben Hanley, the result was nice, but just getting to play at all meant a lot to him.

“I’ve just been itching to get back on the court, and it really did feel good to get back out there,” Hanley said. “We only have 12 guaranteed games this year, and just knowing that makes every game that much more important.”

Every fall and winter sport, including basketball, does have a shorter-than-usual schedule. Fall and winter teams will face mostly conference opponents, and the basketball schedules include an additional quirk. Rather than playing each conference opponent twice a year — once at each school — on dates spread throughout the semester, both the men’s and women’s basketball teams will face six conference opponents each on consecutive days in one place across six weekends through the end of February.

This schedule setup reduces travel time during the season and ensures teams return home faster than they have in previous years. According to Head Women’s Basketball Coach Cameron Hill, the schedule also provides his team with new opportunities.

“Playing the same team twice is cool actually,” Hill said. “It really gives you a chance to teach, adjust, see what works and how you can do it better. This model is a lot like an NBA playoff situation. It becomes like a chess match of counters.”

Hanley explained that although facing the same team twice in a row felt strange, it did help the team improve immediately after a close loss.

“It is definitely weird because it’s something we’re not used to, but I actually do like it because we lost the first one by a pretty close margin, and I really felt like we could have taken that one,” Hanley said. “That night, we went over film, and the next morning, and I think it was really helpful to be able to learn from our mistakes and know exactly what we needed to do differently to beat that team just the very next day.”

Back on campus in San Antonio, the men’s tennis team pulled off a massive upset. The Tigers defeated the Rice Owls, a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I team. The magnitude of a Division III school like Trinity knocking off a school like Rice was not lost on Christian Settles, junior tennis player and co-captain.

“We went out there just hoping to give it our best and to start off on the right foot as a team with the right energy and the right attitude, competing as hard as we could,” Settles said. “It got to the point where we really knew that we could do it, and once we did, it was really, really exciting. We were all so pumped, and we knew we just kind of pulled off something special.”

The men’s tennis team is no stranger to success. The Tigers have won 10 consecutive SCAC championships, and they were undefeated in conference play when their season got cut short last year. However, as a junior who experienced last year’s sudden stoppage, Settles knows the team can take nothing for granted.

“There’s still a lot of things up in the air that we’re not certain about, but I know for a fact that every time we get on the court, we’re just going to give it our best shot again, and I’m excited to see what else this team can do,” Settles said.

Trinity’s student-athletes are going through strict COVID-19 procedures to make spring seasons happen. Settles and his teammates have taken three COVID-19 tests since arriving on campus over a week ago, and tennis matches now include wearing masks when not playing and sitting apart from each other in the stands.

According to Hanley, the men’s and women’s basketball teams used to travel to away games on the same bus, but this latest drive to Houston saw each team take separate buses so they could sit further apart from one another.

“We understand that we’re incredibly lucky to even be playing in the first place, and there are things that we have to go through and we have to sacrifice in order to make that happen,” Settles said. “That’s the reality, and I think the better that we can accept it, and try and take it head on and compete as well as we can despite the changes, the better we’re going to do.”

Apart from the now familiar COVID-19 safety tools like masks, perhaps the biggest change for teams is playing in front of no fans. According to Justin Parker, Associate Director of Athletics and Sports Information Director, the SCAC will not allow any fans at games and there are no exceptions for parents or students already on campus.

Parker added that as the season progresses, fans could be allowed to attend games if the health situation improves. For now, teams must rely on themselves to create the energy fans typically bring to a game or match.

“I think our bench did a really good job to just bring in that energy because we really need that energy from somewhere, and the bench bringing that is really helpful for sure,” Hanley said.

“There’s only six of us that are able to be out there playing singles, and everybody who’s not has an equally important job to be behind their teammates and to cheer and to be loud,” Settles said. “With the absence of fans, it’s even more important to try and create the energy, maintain the vibe and help your teammates win and get over the finish line.”

After going from March 2020 to Jan. 2021 between games, Tiger fans must only wait until this upcoming weekend for more action. Both basketball teams host Colorado College on Friday and Saturday while the men’s tennis team is joined by the women’s tennis team as they head south to face another Division I school — Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi .

Once again, playing games on consecutive weekends — something that was once so normal — is now cherished by the Tigers.

“It’s special that we’re out there to begin with, and we definitely don’t want to let that go to waste. We want to make the most of it,” Settles said. “It really gives an extra layer of purpose and direction to how we live our lives on campus.”