Basketball teams at Keystone College had high hopes for their upcoming seasons.
The Lady Giants were coming off a 21-win campaign, a league title and the program’s first NCAA Division III tournament bid. Meanwhile, the Giants had a senior-laden roster expected to challenge for a playoff berth.
Clarks Summit University women’s basketball team also had big expectations. The Lady Defenders were NCAA Division III’s most improved team, going from zero wins in 2018-19 to 18 last season.
All three squads were looking forward to continuing their momentum. Unfortunately, they won’t get the chance.
On Monday, the Colonial States Athletic Conference announced that regular season and championships for fall and winter sports were canceled for the 2020-21 academic year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Sports affected are men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s soccer, field hockey and women’s volleyball.
Clarks Summit and Keystone are two of the 11 full-time members in the conference, along with Bryn Athyn College, Cairn University, Cedar Crest College, Centenary University, Notre Dame of Maryland University, Rosemont College, Saint Elizabeth University, University of Valley Forge and Wilson College.
“Obviously, it’s really disappointing news,” Keystone women’s basketball coach Kristina Danella said. “We kind of figured all along because we saw the trends of other Division III conferences. But it’s a hard pill to swallow when you actually hear it’s your conference and you have to deal with it head-on. We found out the news, had a team meeting to discuss it and we’ll just go forward from there.”
Three weeks ago, the conference Board of Directors announced fall and winter sports were suspended until Jan. 31, 2021. But Monday, the board decided to cancel them altogether.
“I think the presidents made the wisest decision for the conference,” Clarks Summit director of athletics Wes Uffelman said. “There’s not going to be a conference schedule, but schools are free to schedule and practice at their own discretion, which I think is good. Schools have different viewpoints on things and I think it’s best for the conference at this standpoint that everybody has the opportunity to play and everybody has the opportunity to do it safely and comfortably as their institution sees fit.”
Brad Cooper, Keystone men’s basketball coach, feels badly for those athletes who are seniors, in particular the seven on his team. Two of them, Jeremy Jordan and Tone Cockrell, are returning first-team CSAC all-stars.
“I feel for them. I can’t imagine what they are going through,” Cooper said. “We felt it was coming. But we were in our guys’ ears all semester about focusing on our daily goals and not worrying about what we couldn’t control.
“There’s still the possibility we can practice and scrimmage, so we’re holding on to that. But clearly, the guys are hurting.”
Uffelman noted Randie Traxler, a senior on the Clarks Summit women’s basketball team, was closing in on her 1,000th career point. She had 963 in her first three seasons with the Lady Defenders.
The NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility to student-athletes because of the pandemic.
“I definitely feel for her, she’s put the work in,” Uffelman said. “We have some cases like that. It is a tough reality to face, but for the most part our athletes will handle it pretty well. We’re going to encourage those kids and seek the best options for them. If it really is the best option to come back, we’ll support them. If they’re ready to move on, we’ll definitely help them out and be thankful for the years they did dedicate to our program.”
Keystone senior Faith Shiffer perhaps was affected most by Monday’s decision. She is a member of both the women’s soccer and women’s basketball teams, so she lost two seasons.
Danella said she immediately thought of Shiffer when she heard the news.
“She was the first one I called last night and I got a lot of silence on the phone,” Danella said. “She’s obviously upset and her family is upset. Her family is super supportive, they come to every game, home and away. So for that to happen, that was a hard hit.”
A decision regarding spring sports competition in the CSAC will be evaluated in January by the Board of Directors.
During more than 30 years at The Times-Tribune, Scott has covered everything from high schools to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. His current beats include motor sports, local colleges, high school cross country and high school baseball. He also is a copy editor and page designer. His articles have won awards from the Associated Press Sports Editors, American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association, Eastern Motorsports Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Pro Chapter and the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association Keystone Press. He also has been honored by the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League and the Minor League Football Alliance. In 2016, he was presented the Media Service Award by the Northeastern Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. A Long Island, New York, native, Scott graduated from the University of Scranton in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in communications. He lives in Peckville with his wife, Andrea, and daughters, Bridget and Emily. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100, x5109; or @swalshTT on Twitter