OHS girl athletes prepare for seasons under COVID-19 cloud

Greg Mast
Ottawa High School girls basketball coach Matt Schurman gives pointers on where each player is supposed to be in his defensive scheme.

High school athletes can’t wait for the 2020-21 athletic seasons.

Many spent the spring and summer lifting weights, running and working on the fundamentals of their sports.

The Ottawa High School girls athletes just want a chance to play, but the COVID-19 cloud still persists.

“We don’t know what will happen in the future,” senior basketball player Lauren Curtis said. “Hopefully, things will start speeding up and the pandemic slows down. Hopefully, we have our season.”

Junior Sofia Ficken, a three-sport athlete for the Cyclones, said it would hurt not to play sports this year.

“Right now basketball is up in the air,” she said. “We are hoping to have a season. It would be a real shame to not have one. We already lost our track and softball season. It would be very sad to lose [sports this year]. Find a way to do it.”

Athletes, coaches and fans are waiting on the KSHSAA to set the guidelines for athletics going forward. The Kansas Board of Education last week blocked Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order to delay the start of school and all activities until after Labor Day.

The KSHSAA expects to announce a starting date for fall sports this week after surveying school administrators.

OHS girls basketball coach Matt Schurman said all students need a sense of normalcy.

“Education first of all and then athletics,” he said. “We are hoping we will be in position to have our season. It is in the back of the seniors’ minds. We have to be positive. These things are outside of our control.”

Senior Riley Titus, who is a member of the basketball and softball teams, said the uncertainty has not slowed their enthusiasm for summer work outs.

“We have been waiting for three months,” Titus said. “It has been really good. There have been weights every day. Everybody is putting the time in, getting in better shape and stronger. We are ready to start sports. Hopefully, we get to still do it.”

Schurman said canceling any athletic activity after having the spring sports wiped out would be difficult to overcome.

“It would be really hard for this group to not have it,” he said. “We have more girls working out in the mornings. Workouts have been great. We are seeing a lot of benefits from the work. It starts with the quality of young women we have. They have done a wonderful job of staying in the now and controlling what is in front of us.

“It would be crushing [not to have athletics].”

Excitement Abound

The girls basketball team’s players and coaches feel a special season is on the horizon. The Cyclones return six of their top eight players, including all five starters, from last year’s team. Many of them have been playing together for awhile.

“I am super excited,” Curtis said. “We are ready for redemption.”

This is the first year these players have had the same coach or staff for a second year.

“The ability to have the same coach has been helpful,” Schurman said. “It is easier to know what is going on. They know what the coaches are expecting.”

Titus said the players are comfortable with Schurman and his system.

“We know how he thinks,” she said. “We know what he wants. It is more fluid.”

Schurman said game experience is so valuable for the Cyclones.

“The returning starters from last year have been playing together for awhile,” he said. “Our relationships are stronger. As a program, we keep getting more competitive. We are expanding [our game] on things we did not have time [to develop] last year. We are starting at a different level than we did last year. We are heading in the right direction.

“This group of girls will be able to compete at a higher level and push each other more in practice. That will help us prepare better for games.”

The players have grown close because of the time spent on and the court, Ficken said.

“It does make a difference,” she said. “It helps us come together as a team and play more like a family than individuals. We will be a much more mature group.

“They become more like your sisters. You go to them for academic help. It helps us a lot to have that chemistry.”

Skill Development

The players’ skill level grew through an inconsistent season last season. This summer has been an extension. The players are working on shooting, ball handling, defensive schemes and other fundamentals of the game.

Senior Lydia Callahan said the Tuesday and Thursday team workouts gives the players a chance to grow individually and as a team.

“It is a time for our team to bond,” Callahan said. “Find out what we can do. We need to put all our pieces together.”

The Cyclones were inconsistent in breaking the press and scoring last season. Those are two areas of emphasis this off-season.

“We have to get them in a situation where they get up shots quicker,” Schurman said. “Finishing around the rim is something we really worked hard on this summer. We did not finish well [last year].”

Ficken said Ottawa has the talent to be a consistent scoring team.

“We are working on more scoring options and ways to score,” she said. “We are very versatile players. When we score more and knocking down shots, team morale is a lot more positive.”

The players are developing a quicker shot with the variety of shooting drills Schurman devised, Curtis said.

“Hopefully that improves our shooting percentage and scoring,” she said. “We are definitely getting better.”

The Cyclones improved throughout the season against the press and hope to take it to another level. Schurman said teams were less reliant on the press against Ottawa at the end of last season.

“We got our press break down,” he said “We knew what we were doing. Our girls will be a lot more confident with the ball. I feel we will see less of it this year.”

Another advantage will be depth. Ottawa relied so much on the starters a year ago.

“We should be able to go uptempo,” Schurman said. “We could do some pressing ourselves.”

The positive vibes in the program can do nothing but improve the team’s mental approach, Schurman said.

“These girls are super competitive,” he said. “We have an opportunity to step it up this year. We have to take that next step where we expect to win.”

OHS junior Sofia Ficken works on ball handling in this drill. She dribbled the ball from one end to the other and finished with a shot.