Pandemic teaches Ottawa team life lessons

Greg Mast
Ottawa University senior guard Perry Carroll, a former Ottawa High School standout, made an immediate impact for the Braves, averaging nearly 13 points a game.

OTTAWA — The pandemic has been a thorn for the Ottawa University men’s basketball team.

In March, the Braves saw their national tournament run stopped because of COVID-19. In fact, Ottawa played the final game of the tourney.

Fast forward to the fall. The Braves 2020-21 season was off to a flying start. Ottawa rolled to wins over Barclay College and Baker.

The virus swept in again. This time, the squad went into quarantine in early November.

“It is definitely tough on everybody,” Ottawa coach Aaron Siebenthall said. “It hard on me. I enjoy being around our team. They are a fun group to be around. My biggest anguish is for those guys. They were playing well and great in practice. They have been very resilient. They are being tough mentally.”

Siebenthall expects the team to resume practicing again late next week.

“We are trying to stave off the recent uptick,” he said. “It is a life lesson.”

The coach figures the earliest game back will be Nov. 28 at home against Bethany. In between, Ottawa will have seven games postponed — one nonconference game and six KCAC games.

“Every game we have had to miss so far is definitely getting made up,” Siebenthall said. “We are going to get to play them. We might have quite a few three-game weeks. It probably will be better than practicing a bunch. They are young and we are pretty deep. We will be fine.”

Ottawa is not alone in dealing with the pandemic. The KCAC sports schedule across the board has dealt with postponements in November.

Siebenthall pointed out every KCAC men’s basketball game was postponed on Tuesday and there were just two women’s games played.

“We are all in this together as a basketball community,” Siebenthall said.

The coach said that, through it all, the players remain positive.

“We have a group that had their hearts ripped out at the national tournament,” he said. “This is bad, but nothing compares to that feeling we had when we were told our national tournament run was canceled.

“The silver lining is they get their year back and get to play all these games. Some of the pressure is off now that the NAIA has ruled that everybody gets their year back. It might be a more condensed schedule than we would have liked.”

Ottawa’s run for a second straight KCAC title could be sit in how well the players respond coming out of quarantine.

“There is a good handful of teams that can win our league,” Siebenthall said. “Everybody is going to have to go through something like this. The team that is the most mentally tough has the best chance. I have talked about that since day one with the whole pandemic. I am proud of our guys in the way they have handled it. I hope there is a light at the end of the tunnel and we can get back on the court real soon.

“Coaches preach about controlling things you can control. This is something we can’t control. We have to be ready when the time comes. You can’t take a practice or game day for granted.”