WINSTED — Opening day of girls basketball season at The Gilbert School amid the COVID-19 pandemic looked amazingly normal on the court — the only real exceptions coming with sideline special rules.
Monday’s game ended in a relative romp as expected, with a 54-30 Housatonic win over the Yellowjackets. The Mountaineers, after all, are one of just two Berkshire League teams to beat league champion Nonnewaug in last year’s abruptly-ended season.
They play with one of the league’s top performers, in 5-11 center Sydney Segalla, the evening’s high scorer with 19 points. Monday, Tori Dodge (14 points) and Emma Walsh (11 points) joined Segalla in double figures while Walsh (two 3-pointers), Dodge (1) and sophomore Izabella Sander (1) struck from beyond the three-point arc.
Gilbert, meanwhile, brings back just two varsity players from last year’s team. The replacements are good-sized but young. Starting point guard Kimberly McCarthy was out for the game.
So the final result was no surprise. The amazing part was this: game-long mask wearing didn’t visibly affect either team at all. In fact, with the exception of several early missed layups, both teams played far better than many opening-day teams in normal times.
The Mountaineers consistently raced up and down court on fast breaks. The Yellowjackets consistently battled on the boards and defensively.
“We practice with masks,” said Coach Kurt Root, filling in for head coach Gerry Hicks, missing the season’s first few games with minor surgery.
Even without the masks, no fan would mistake this game for normal high school basketball.
“It’s a challenge,” said Housatonic coach Steve Dodge, whose good-sized team lost seven players to COVID-19 concerns. “We have fewer numbers so I have to make fewer substitutions.”
Both teams played the first three quarters in zone defenses, conserving energy. The final quarter, when the Yellowjackets played man-to-man against Mountaineer substitutes, showed how stiffer defense emphasizes the effects of masks.
In a 5 p.m. start, with just one parent allowed for each player, the crowd in Gilbert’s normally-intense gym was almost non-existent. Referees declared a one-minute mask break at the midway point of each quarter. Basketballs and even the scoring table were wiped down regularly.
The kids were up to the challenge.
Segalla, a junior two-sport star who committed to Division I Boston College for soccer last July, said basketball’s COVID protocols were “harder than fall’s soccer because we didn’t have to wear masks on the field and, in soccer, you don’t have to run all the time.
“Now,” Segalla said, “my club soccer team wears masks on the field so I’m used to it.”
So maybe the most amazing thing about opening day at Gilbert was how quickly and thoroughly, even in the midst of a lingering pandemic, kids can adjust to the phenomenon of a new normal.