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DeWitt High’s Varsity Girls Basketball Team Hopes To Play Despite Uncertainty

High School Sports
Tom Pearson – TCP Photography
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The Panthers, like all other prep teams in Michigan, are paused because of COVID-19 rules. The coaches and players are trying to keep moving forward and be ready when season resumes.

DEWITT, Mich. - Creating team chemistry on a high school basketball team, during the summer, is hard enough. Some players are unavailable due to vacations, some unavailable because of jobs and some are preparing for their fall sports season. Add COVID-19 to the mix and building team chemistry was almost impossible this summer for DeWitt’s varsity girls team.

“We didn’t spend one second together as a group in the off season, from the shutdown in March until probably the end of July,” said Bill McCullen, DeWitt girls’ varsity basketball coach.

In addition to the early end of the season in March, high school teams were put at a disadvantage in the summer with the COVID-19 protocols in place.

“We usually play 25-30 games in the summer at different team camps and shootouts,” he said. “Normally, in a typical summer, we go to all these camps and challenge ourselves to try and play some of the best programs around and it gives you an idea of how good you are.”

High school basketball teams use the off season to evaluate players, grow team chemistry and develop individual skills.

“It's a valuable time where you’re getting to know your team, they’re building chemistry and you’re starting to figure out a plan for what you might be able to be successful at for that season,” he said.

The summer is also a time where plays play on the AAU circuit in Michigan and around the country. Senior guard Hannah Kurncz was able to play some tournaments in Indiana. McCullen and his team were forced to try unique ways to be together this offseason. They have taken advantage of Zoom and also tried to meet in small groups.

“We tried to do some small group player workouts…at one of our girl’s houses in their driveway,” he said. “With masks, hand sanitizer, six feet apart, everyone has their own ball. It was just really difficult to get much accomplished.”

DeWitt was not affected by the cancelation of high school season back in March. The Panthers was done playing, after losing in the district championship with a 16-6 record.

“I felt horrible for those teams that were still alive in the tournament and never got the opportunity to finish up,” he said.

McCallum feels the same disappointment for the DeWitt football and swim teams. The football team was set to face Stevensville Lakeshore in the State Regionals before the postponement. The swimming and diving championships were scheduled for Nov. 20-21.

“You just feel for those kids,” he said. “You want them to get a chance to finish the job.” McCullen had been anticipating the postponement of the new basketball season for a couple weeks. Kurncz and fellow senior captain, Isabelle Gilmore, are trying to make the most of their final season in a Panther uniform.

“Isabelle and I…we’re just really looking forward to when we can play and when we can play safely,” Kurncz said. “Hopefully, without any interruptions after this three-week dead period.”

Practices began on Nov. 9 before being shut down on Nov. 15. The Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) announced that all sports activities would be canceled until at least Dec. 8.

“We had been talking as a team every day, that we want to make the most of every opportunity we have to be in the gym this season,” he said. “We were excited to have everyone in the gym again.”

McCullen has been in constant contact with his players since the postponement was announced. Without being able to be on the court, McCullen still holds high expectations for when the season is able to be played.
“We have three of our top scorers back from the previous season,” he said. “We have high expectations and feel confident going into the season that we have the opportunity to have a pretty good team.”

In times of uncertainty and confusion, a team’s leadership is put to the test, especially with a young team. Kurncz and Gilmore are rising to the challenge.

“Just trying to stay in contact with the younger girls. . . let them know when the time comes we need to be ready to play,” Gilmore said.

No matter when the season returns, Gilmore, Kurncz and the Panthers want to continue their winning tradition.

“Coach McCullen always sets really high standards and expectations for us,” Gilmore said. “We’ve had really successful seasons in the past so just looking to continue that and win as many games as possible in the DeWitt uniform.”

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