CASPER – On Thursday, the 3A and 4A high school basketball state tournaments in Casper were canceled because of the outbreak of COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus.
The decision was made by the Natrona County Health Department just after the Cheyenne Central High School-Green River High School girls basketball quarterfinal game.
In a press-conference video posted by WyoPreps following the decision, Wyoming High School Activities Association Commissioner Ron Laird said the board of directors will look at all the options moving forward:
“Just offhand, I think it’s going to be tough (to reschedule) ‘cause I don’t know how long this quarantine period will be from the state, and we’re already into track and soccer. Facility-wise, if we do it, it would probably be splitting the tournaments up to try and make it happen. We’re just going to have to look at all options right now.”
During the first games of the tournament, WHSAA announced that fans and media were not allowed to be in attendance. However, the change was made to a full blown cancellation of the tournament less than an hour later.
The Green River girls basketball team, which lost to Central 62-37, wasn’t the only team from Sweetwater County that was scheduled to compete in this year’s state tournament.
The Green River boys and Rock Springs girls basketball teams were also looking forward to playing against the state’s toughest competition with hopes of claiming the elusive title.
The Green River boys were scheduled to play the Thunder Basin Bolts at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday.
The Rock Springs girls were also scheduled to play Thunder Basin at 4:30 p.m.
But instead of playing the game they love, the teams were forced to pack their things and head home.
Admittedly, coaches and players were upset their season abruptly ended on the biggest stage.
“My initial thoughts were selfish, mainly because our team was playing so well and we had a great week of practice,” said Rock Springs head coach Ramiro Candelaria.
“I thought about all the hard work our team put in over the course of the season to be playing our best right now. We were ready for this, for all teams and situations, I felt we could have had a nice run at the state title.
“I thought about our seniors and what they must be feeling like, knowing they didn’t get a chance for any closure on their basketball career. It was truly heart breaking to share the news to our team.”
But ultimately, Candelaria was thankful the precaution was taken and the team and other people involved in putting together a state tournament were protected.
“There are more important things than basketball and sports at the moment,” he said.
“This coronavirus is a global pandemic and people’s lives are at stake – millions of people’s lives. Although we would have loved to competed, I appreciate the state of Wyoming looking out for our health and the public’s health.”
For the Rock Springs senior players, which includes Makalie Mignerey, Makailey Johnson, Aislyn Pecolar, Camryn Pierantoni and Payton Reese, the news of the canceled state tournament was heartbreaking and devastating.
“It was truly heartbreaking having to turn the bus around as we arrived to Casper,” Mignerey said. “Our team was the underdogs and no one really had high hopes for us. But we were ready for this weekend. We were so prepared to show everyone and get to the championship. We were determined.
“For all the 3A and 4A seniors, I feel for them having to hand your jersey back three days early without a chance to hear your name called for the last time, play with your girls and to just enjoy the sport that you love. I’m beyond proud of our team, but it was devastating.”
Johnson said that the tournament should’ve continued on without fans and media, adding that the decision to cancel it was unfair to the seniors around the state.
“The feeling I had when we found out was the worst. We would not be playing our last games. I know the virus is scary, but I don’t feel they should have canceled the games,” she said.
Pecolar said the coronavirus has ruined sports all over the world and is heartbroken that she will never be able to lace up her shoes and put on her jersey again.
“Knowing that us five seniors didn’t get a chance to lace up our shoes, put on our jerseys and get ready for last game one last time was heartbreaking,” she said. “I was excited to make more memories. It is devastating having to carry this. Our girls worked their butt off to put us where we were at state. Not having a chance to prove ourselves was crazy.
“This whole situation seems so unreal. My heart still hurts knowing that I will never put a RSHS Lady Tiger jersey on or hear the buzzer. Not only that, but I didn’t even know I played my last and final game.”
Pierantoni said she was disappointed the tournament got canceled, but that it was probably best in the long run.
“The virus spreads through crowds and people really quickly. But I’m really sad because it was my last weekend with the team and I was looking forward to playing,” she said. “I had a really good feeling that we were going to go far since we had been practicing and playing really well.”
Rock Springs sophomore Brenli Jenkins said COVID-19 is scary, but since there is only one confirmed case in the state of Wyoming, she believes the tournament should’ve continued and feels bad for the senior class that it wasn’t.
“I think that the coronavirus is scary but not in Wyoming when we have one case. The rates are so much higher elsewhere,” she said.
“I feel so bad for the seniors in 3A and 4A. The feeling we had turning around and going home was so terrible and I bet it was way worse for the seniors. It broke my heart seeing my best friend’s last weekend of basketball done and over with without even playing.”
Despite not being able to finish their season, the Tigers enjoyed an eventful season that ended with a 15-9 record and a second-place finish in the West Region.
“I’m extremely proud of our team. We had a very successful season, won some huge games,” Candelaria said. “Despite everything that has gone on with the cancelation, I hope our team can reflect and acknowledge that they did something great this year!”