Basketball team excited to go from non-contact practices to games
Thu, 02/11/2021 - 1:13pm caleb
After one day of normal practices, Vikings host Elk Rapids for first match of the season
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
For a while, there was nothing. Just virtual preparation. Then, “non-contact” practices only. Then, last week, everything was in play. Contact practices, games, all of it. For the Grayling High School varsity boys basketball team, the 2020-2021 season is finally underway.
In mid-November the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, through an epidemic order related to COVID-19, suspended all indoor high school winter sports activity. In mid-January, a revised version of the MDHHS order allowed indoor sports such as basketball and wrestling to begin non-contact practices. At that point, competitions were expected to begin as early as February 1; however, another order revision by the MDHHS announced on Friday, January 22, extended the suspension of contact practices until February 21.
LJ Mead, coach of the GHS varsity boys basketball team, said he still maintained hope that the squad would be able to compete this year despite the setbacks.
“Honestly, I had faith that we would be given the opportunity to play,” Coach Mead said. “The last push back was tough, but again our kids embraced the situation. We talked about preparing today the best we can under the guidelines to be ready when we were called to duty.”
Then, it happened. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced on Thursday, February 4, that high school “contact” winter sports such as basketball and wrestling could participate in normal practices and competition as early as the week of February 8. The Vikings practiced on Monday, February 8, and played their season opener – a home game against Elk Rapids, a Lake Michigan Conference opponent – on Tuesday, February 9. (Players had to wear masks on the court and on the bench, per MDHHS regulations.)
“Kids were absolutely excited, maybe a little too excited,” Coach Mead said. “Hopefully now that we have a game under our belts we can start to settle in. We had one full contact practice and then played a very tough Elk Rapids team.”
The Elks built a big lead early, outscoring Grayling 33-18 in the first period. Elk Rapids led 48-35 at halftime. The Elks took a 72-51 advantage into the fourth quarter, and Elk Rapids won 78-63.
Eliot Boik had 17 points and two steals for the Vikings. Dylan Cragg had 12 points and four blocks. Nate Persing had 10 points and 11 rebounds. Matt Pittman had 10 points. Caleb Caul had six points, 12 rebounds, six assists, and two steals. Cameron Ketchum had five points and Ryan Williams had two points.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge to play Elk with one legit practice with contact. Up until Monday we had to try and teach our schemes by Google meet or in practices in which we had to stay six feet apart from each other. We knew there would be gaps and that we would focus on the process and not always the outcome,” Coach Mead said.
“We fought the entire game. We didn’t get our heads down when they went on their two big runs. We just battled. I am proud of our guys,” Coach Mead said. “We just enjoyed being together and being able to play.”
Mead, who’s in his first season as head coach of the team, is a longtime assistant coach with the program and he was previously the head coach of the GHS varsity girls basketball squad. Right now, he’s looking for growth from the players as the season progresses.
“We are looking to lay a solid foundation for our program. Build it brick by brick. We want continued growth each day, each practice, each game,” Coach Mead said.
He said it was difficult being limited to non-contact drills before the recent change in regulations.
“The non-contact period obviously brought about some challenges. We tried to get creative in our teaching of our systems and focused on skill development and conditioning,” Coach Mead said. “Our kids embraced the situation and worked extremely hard. We kept it positive and fun. Kind of had the mentality of let’s enjoy the day because we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow with everything that is going on. The biggest challenge was implementing our schemes when you have to stay six feet apart. We did a lot with cones, but cones don’t move and basketball players do.”
The Vikings will host Charlevoix on Friday, February 19.
The varsity squad has 13 players this year – eight juniors and five seniors. Coach Mead said the group is athletic and can score inside or outside.
“We have solid athleticism, the ability to shoot from outside as well as finish at the rim,” Coach Mead said. “We also have kids that truly love to play basketball.”