The email that popped last week into Brandy Alm’s inbox nearly broke her heart.
The message suggested that the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s Board of Directors might, at its winter meeting, vote to once again delay the start of the 2020-2021 season. In this, a year already turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic, nothing would have surprised Alm.
But the NCHSAA board made no changes to the schedule, which means Alm and the rest of Polk County’s basketball programs can officially begin practice on Monday.
As she prepares to begin her seventh season leading Polk County’s girls varsity, Alm has a bit of a Christmas-come-early feeling.
“We’re so excited,” Alm said. “We’ve been working out since the summer, but we didn’t really know what to expect. To get to actually start practice means so much.
“We haven’t beeen able to touch or really play. We haven’t played defense, we haven’t worked on boxing out. It will be nice to go out and actually play.”
Polk County isn’t slated to begin its regular season until January, giving the Wolverines plenty of time to adjust to how basketball will be played in the era of COVID:
- No jump balls will be held. The visiting team will have the first possession
- The game ball will be sanitized before the game and not used in warmups. The game ball will also be sanitized during every timeout and between every quarter
- Officials will stand farther away from players during inbounds plays and free throws
- Most importantly, players must wear masks at all times. An extra 60-second timeout will be added to each quarter to help players and officials adjust to wearing masks.
“It’s going to be different at first and will take some getting used to,” Alm said. “Once we get used to it, I think it will be fine. It’s what we have to do to play.”
Also new for Alm this season will be basketball overlapping with volleyball. Alm has a number of players on Polk’s volleyball roster, and getting practice time with those players in December may pose a challenge as the Wolverine volleyball team moves through its schedule. An extended volleyball playoff run could mean that some of Alm’s players aren’t fully available until well into her regular season.
“Coach (Molly) Hill and I have talked quite a bit about how we’re going to do it,” Alm said. “We’re going to work with each other, and she’s been great about doing what she can to make the best of it.
“Being in a small school, we have to share athletes out of necessity.”
A familiar face will join Alm on the sidelines this season as Hayley Kropp, the school’s all-time leading scorer, has returned to coach the Polk junior varsity and serve as a varsity assistant.