By Jacob Liddicote
The Pacer Nation stables are about to unleash a torrent of hooves on their conference opponents. Students may be ready for basketball season to start, but the players and coaches are chomping at the bit as they return to a full schedule with fans in the bleachers.
WPU men and women’s basketball season teams return to the court this month, regaining a sense of normalcy this fall after spectators were prohibited by COVID restrictions last year.
Assistant men’s coach Jamal Stokes revels in the lifted restrictions and expressed his excitement for the new season.
“Not having [fans] be able to be in there was rough,” said Stokes. “You know the Herm is a very special place and one of the things that makes the Herm so special is the atmosphere.”
The men start their season at Campbell University in Buies Creek Nov. 9, while the women come home to Raleigh for a Nov. 19 matchup at St. Augustine’s University after two away games in Virginia and Maryland. See the full schedule at Gopeacepacers.com.
Claude Shields, men’s basketball head coach, is excited to return to a full schedule of practices and games. He expressed gratitude for the opportunity to assess the progress of the team and areas of growth.
“You get to learn through success and failure, and then play at any conference schedule, and everyone didn’t have that last year,” said Shields. “So I think getting back to that to where we have a longer runway to learn from our mistakes.”
COVID forced the basketball team to adapt to many challenges. They were unable to play a full season last year and had no preseason or time to create comradery.
Women rebound from controversy
Last semester, the women’s basketball team made the state championship, but did not play in the game in protest. The players sat out in an act of solidarity when an opposing team member called a WPU student a racial slur.
“Most of the season is getting back what we should have,” said Myla Barnes, a senior basketball player. “We should have won last season with everything happening to our own former player, all the racial slurs and everything was going on, it was tough for us.”
“As a team, we’re a family and if one’s down then we’re all down. Now we’re coming back hungry…We actually get to have a true season and we actually can build…those bonds, and build those relationships, and I’m looking forward to getting a W and getting that championship this year.”
Women’s coach Marquetta Dickens says the team will focus on “guard heavy play.”
“You know that would be in both our offensive and defensive schemes and defensively really getting out there even more than we did last season to take advantage of our athleticism,” said Dickens.
Cierra Baker, senior criminal justice major, reflects on her remaining time with her teammates.
“By being in practice …. or being on the road with them (teammates) just experiencing that for like the last time is really all I’m focused on and of course I want to win,” said Baker. “As a senior it really can be all bittersweet as the relationships and connections you have made feel like they are going to disappear.”
Talking about the team feeling as one really can be something as simple as buying into what the team and coaches believe.
Many players and spectators share the same sentiments. They are excited to get back to the courts, and are anticipating a successful season for Pacers basketball.
“Everybody come out, it’s fun seeing your team win,” said Beau Bryant, senior in Exercise and Sports Science. “We’re hoping that that will have fans and will be able to get some fuel to come out and watch the games and we hope we’ll see some students and some local community members out there.”