LOWVILLE — When Chad Bach saw Lowville athletic director Rob Goss and superintendent Rebecca Dunckel-King enter the gym where the boys basketball team was practicing a little after 4:30 p.m. Thursday, he immediately had a sinking feeling.
Standing at the baseline, Bach was getting ready to run another set of five-on-five. Until then, the Red Raiders practice had been electric. At 22-1, the team that has spent the past eight weeks as the No. 1 Class B team in the state was coming off its second consecutive Section 3 title and preparing for another run at the state tournament.
Section 4’s Seton Catholic was scheduled to be up first, a big team out of Binghamton whose leading scorer, Brett Rumpel, is averaging more than 30 points per game.
The Red Raiders have faced plenty of teams like that before — just last year they took a Joe Girard III-led Glens Falls team to overtime in the state final. While the Red Raiders always remained focus on whatever game was next, getting back to that stage was the goal from the get-go, and Sunday was the next big step.
That’s what made Goss’ and Dunckel-King’s words so gutting.
Coming straight from a district meeting, the two administrators called the team over and told them the news no one wanted hear. They won’t be playing Sunday, no one would be playing on Sunday because of the coronavirus. The New York State Public High School Athletic Association announced shortly after 3 p.m. that it would be putting all of its winter tournaments on hold, not canceled, but “postponed indefinitely.” There was obvious disappointment and shock but, according to Bach, the overall tone of the team was “mad.” It was never a guarantee that the Red Raiders would win the 2020 state title, but if they were to lose, it would have come on their own terms.
“It’s out of our control with what’s going on, so we’re not necessarily annoyed by anything,” Bach said. “We’re just disappointed that we might not get another chance at reaching the state championship, which we all dreamed of.”
After Goss delivered the bad news, head coach Zach Shambo and assistant Andy Capone talked to the boys inside the locker room.
Despite the grim outlook, the tournament remains “postponed indefinitely.” An additional press release that was sent out Friday said, “Dr. Robert Zayas, NYSPHSAA Executive Director, will continue to evaluate the situation and do his best to determine the future of winter championships as soon as possible with input from the membership and Executive Committee. Dr. Zayas is cautiously optimistic the winter state championships will be conducted for our student-athletes.”
Shambo and Capone tried to remind the team that indefinitely postponed doesn’t mean canceled and that they’ll still practice until there is either a game or an official cancellation.
“What he told us [Friday] was that we’re going to keep practicing because if we do get to play we want to be ready and we want to win,” Bach said.
After the players left school, the conversations continued over text and social media. The main topic remained the same. In the end will the Red Raiders even get a chance?
“Everyone really really wants to play obviously and there’s just a lot of uncertainty if that we’re going to play the rest of the tournament,” Bach said.
Bach, like his teammates, is hoping for the best. But even he realizes the situation’s current outlook isn’t promising.
“Honestly I’m hoping we get to play but right now it’s not looking great,” Bach said. “Hopefully in the next few weeks it [the virus] dies down a little bit and we can get back out there and finish.”
As it stands now, the spring season in Section 3 will begin as scheduled, though the unpredictability of the pandemic hasn’t ruled out any possible changes. Section 2 (Albany area) has delayed the start of its spring season.
If and when spring sports begin, Bach will transition from basketball to lacrosse, but until then, he’s still in a basketball mindset. For the senior, whose high school career has reached its last few months, the hardest part of the indefinite postponement of the state tournament has been the “what if.”
“Not knowing what would have happened,” Bach said.
“Everyone getting together and saying what if, what if we would have gotten the chance to play and finish the season,” he added. “My biggest thing is not knowing what could have happened.”