Sac State women’s basketball team prepares for 2020-21 season

Team cleared for 5-on-5 practice with masks


Sara Nevis

Jakira Wilson lays the ball up during the Sac State women’s basketball team practice at The Nest at Sacramento State Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. Wilson played in 22 out of 30 games last season.

Brandon Bailey

Going into the fall, Sacramento State women’s basketball junior guard Tiana Johnson said she was not certain whether it would be safe to return to the court under the conditions of a pandemic. 

“I was pretty cautious coming in, it was definitely in the back of mind, but no one has ever experienced this before, so you can’t get really uptight about it,” Johnson said, referring to COVID-19.

After months of the 2020-2021 basketball season being up in the air, the NCAA has granted Sacramento State and the rest of the Big Sky permission to begin conference play Dec. 3. This year’s the Sac State women’s basketball team is not only facing the challenge of playing during a pandemic, but also of bouncing back after going 8-22 last season due to two key injuries suffered by Hornet alumnae Kennedy Nicholas and Camariah King

The goal hasn’t changed for the Hornets and head coach Bunky Harkleroad. 

“The goal is always to win the Big Sky Championship,” Harkleroad said.

This year’s Sac State women’s basketball team has nine returning players and seven new players, five of them being freshmen. This is also the last year remaining on Coach Harkleroad’s current contract as head coach dating back to 2013. Harkleroad’s combined record is 85-129.

The big question for Sac State women’s basketball and just about every athletic program at the school is how they will plan to operate their teams during a pandemic without putting their team at risk. Returning senior guard Tiara Scott said that as of right now, the team members are  tested every week and as the season gets closer, the goal is for the team to get tested everyday. 

To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the Hornets have also been practicing in pods and staggering times between each drill. Up until this week, the team was only allowed to participate in 3-on-3 and 1-on-1 competition within their pods, and they have just been cleared for 5-on-5. 

For team activities such as running plays during practice, the Hornets break up into two groups and rotate players while the coach explains the play and critiques them as they go. Before being cleared to use the gym, the Hornets practiced on blacktop courts near the Sac State dorms, according to Harkleroad.

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Overall, Harkleroad said he feels the team has had to be really flexible, but that they have handled it well. 

“When you’re playing on an outside court at 6 a.m., that kind of brings you together more.” Johnson said. “We all have to go through this situation together, we all have to make the most of it, so I think that brought us together the most.” 

Johnson also said that as a team, they still need a lot of work, and that not having as much access to the gym in the offseason is a part of this problem.

 “You can’t go very hard because you don’t want to bust your legs up,” Johnson said. 

On the court, the team has struggled with bonding as a unit according to Johnson. She explained that “chemistry-wise, we have been able to relate in other ways.” 

 Johnson said this is a year where “the goal is to unite as one.”

“We need to just do a better job coming together as a team,” Johnson said. “I think last year, a lot of the times when we lost, it was like we didn’t lose as a team… It was like ‘oh I lost,’ or ‘I didn’t play well,’ or ‘I played well but we lost anyways.’ So I think we need to do a better job of maintaining a team atmosphere.”

Conference play and the start of the season begins Thursday, Dec. 3, when the Hornets will play against the Idaho Vandals, a team they lost to twice last season.