The Lady Jaspers Return to the Court Tonight Providing a Dose of Normalcy for Manhattan Basketball

by Pete Janny, Sports Editor & Managing Editor

It all started with a false start; and later it became a false positive. That’s the best way to describe the whirlwind day the Manhattan women’s basketball team had on Thanksgiving Eve.

The day started out with an abundance of hope and promise but later ended with the Lady Jaspers being sent into quarantine after the discovery of a positive coronavirus case among their tier one group, which consists of players and coaches. This was not the way the team planned on spending the start of their season— and Thanksgiving—being consigned to the same idle status of the men’s team who were also dealing with a quarantine at the time due to their own COVID-19 scare earlier in the month.

The bad news for the Lady Jaspers forced the program to immediately postpone their game scheduled for that night against FDU, as well as a game against Villanova which was scheduled to happen two days later in Draddy. Next came cancellations against Fordham and Army which temporarily left them without any other non-conference games. 

The catch, though, is that there was never an internal threat to begin with because it was later discovered that the positive case that came back was actually a false positive. Though the news of the false positive came later than anyone wanted it to, the Lady Jaspers were able to test out of their quarantine this past Wednesday after originally stopping all activities on that whirlwind Thanksgiving Eve. All in all, the length of their quarantine was seven days, instead of the common practice of waiting 14 days for teams who have actual cases or may have been exposed. The COVID-19 protocols vary across Division I conferences, and the MAAC is requiring all schools with a positive test among their Tier One Group—consisting of players, coaches and support staff—to pause basketball-related activities and go into a quarantine.

“It was a false positive so the Department of Health let us out of the quarantine,” Vulin told the Quad last Friday. “I can’t imagine if we would’ve had to do a full two weeks.” 

For Vulin’s team, the excitement for returning to the court to compete for the first time in nine months was suddenly replaced with a familiar feeling of doubt that has become the new normal during this time in the world. The postponements signaled a sobering reminder that nothing will be guaranteed this season, and that even a single bad decision by any team member could spell the fate of a team’s season. 

There was also the preparation factor that these games carried with them. 

With the MAAC season only a couple of days away, time is running out to make any final adjustments to their system of play, and losing out on opportunities to play games only makes these lingering questions harder to solve. 

Having realized that, Vulin made sure to contact Stony Brook to see if there was any mutual interest in playing each other as one last tune-up to the conference season. Luckily for Manhattan, a deal was struck for Stony Brook to visit Draddy on Dec. 8., and now the Lady Jaspers will return to the court later today for a 6 PM tip-off for the first time since beating Monmouth 54-48 in Draddy on March 5th. 

“We unfortunately had a pause and missed our first four non-conference games,” Vulin said earlier today, according to Go Jaspers. “We are back against a great Stony Brook team tonight and will open up conference play at Rider this weekend. We are just grateful for the opportunity to step on the court tonight, and excited to show everyone what this group has in store for the season.” 

On top of all those variables is the high level of expectations that the Lady Jaspers are facing this season — the program hasn’t felt a buzz like this at the start of a season in years. 

Their return to the court has been a long time coming after making big strides last season in Vulin’s fourth season at the helm. Last season featured the rise to stardom of Emily LaPointe, who was unanimously selected as the MAAC Rookie of the Year, and saw Courtney Warley consistently put up performances that rivaled other top players in the league on her way to earning All-MAAC First Team honors. 

This season the team has even more talent, with Gabby Cajou returning for one last season and D’yona Davis back after a redshirt season. Vulin also used the transfer market to add sophomore Jenna Jordan who played one year at St. Francis Brooklyn. 

After tonight’s game, the Lady Jaspers will hit the road to usher in the new conference season with two games against Rider on Dec. 11 and Dec. 12 in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. 

The Broncs have enjoyed a terrific run of success in recent years, including earning a share of first place with Marist by the end of conference play last season. However, they will look different this season after losing a few key players to graduation. The most notable departure is MAAC legend Stella Johnson, who led the nation in scoring last season and now plays for the Washington Mystics of the WNBA. Manhattan can expect to be favorites against a Broncs team—who has lost each of their first four games—just as they will be in most conference matchups this season. 

“It’s going to be different but I know the girls always love playing Rider,” Vulin said. 

Meanwhile, prior to the Lady Jaspers getting set back, the mandated quarantine for the men’s team came to fruition after a positive test was discovered within the program in late November, forcing them to sit out games against Delaware State on the road and Fordham at home. 

“The only time they left their rooms was to go home or test,” head coach Steve Masiello told the Quad while also clarifying that there was only positive case within the program.

Forced to adjust his team’s plans, head coach Steve Masiello had been trying to get at least one non-conference game in before his team will host Rider for back-to-back games on Dec. 11 and Dec. 12 starting at 6 PM both nights. 

“It’s going to be extremely challenging and something I’ve never done before,” Masiello said. “Our preparation and practices are going to be the only gauge of where we are.” 

Since league games are quickly approaching, the plans for playing non-conference games is expected to be revisited by the Jaspers at the end of the month when there are more open days in the schedule.

“I’m hoping we have the opportunity to get some games in during time,” Masiello said. “I’ve never seen so many variables come into playing during a basketball season 

The challenges that have arisen this season with scheduling may end up pigeonholing the program into accepting virtually any games they could find that make sense geographically. Masiello knows that the only way for his team to reach their full potential is to compete and get feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of his team. 

The men’s team resumed workouts on Dec. 3 following the 14-day quarantine. The time away was a frustrating reality for the program given that the players were more or less idle in their dorm rooms for two whole weeks. Some players decided to go home for Thanksgiving Break and were instructed to follow the same precautions while away. 

In many ways, it felt like the hard work the team put in before the quarantine went mostly wasted. It will be worth watching to see if the effects of the quarantine impact the Jaspers early on, especially for a team with several new players who need to develop chemistry on the court. 

“At some places you can work out during the quarantine and at other places you can’t and at some places if someone tests positive everyone shuts down,” Masiello said in reference to the discrepancy in protocols in different parts of the country. “You want to make sure everything is being done for the safety and well-being of your players and staff and after that my job is to help them win basketball games.” 

With the attention turning to the MAAC season, Masiello and his team will also need to be ready for several important matchups this season against teams like Siena, Iona, and St. Peter’s. Selected as the top teams preseason—in that order— each will hope to capitalize on getting to play the Jaspers at home this season which amounts to six tough road games for Manhattan. In particular, the last two games of the regular season are at Iona—against Rick Pitino and a revamped Gaels team—and should generate a lot of interest among Jasper fans. 

Aside from the headaches caused by this season’s predictable and incessant chaos, there is much to be grateful for now that college basketball is on display everywhere and has once again reminded the public about its important place in the lives of sports fans. 

Manhattan basketball will finally resurface tonight after eight months away from our lives. While both programs will need to continue to live patiently and diligently to give their seasons a chance to survive, the long-anticipated return deserves to be celebrated in a year unlike any other.