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NIC IN THE MEDIA: Cards ready to return, when it's right


THE FRONT ROW WITH JASON ELLIOTT: Cards ready to return, when it's right

As start dates and events continued to be pushed back by the Northwest Athletic Conference and North Idaho College, it was apparent early on that this wasn’t going to be a normal sports season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

And that’s fine, the athletes understand.

Then again, all they want is a chance to get something going, whether that be a practice or game once again.

NIC was scheduled to begin wrestling practice on Jan. 4, but the team has yet to meet as a group to move forward quite yet. All athletes — regardless of sport — are required by the school to quarantine from activities for two weeks after arriving on campus for the spring semester, which begins on Monday. And the wrestlers have not completed their two-week quarantine on campus, Cardinal wrestling coach Mike Sebaaly said.

Athletes are still allowed to attend classes on campus when required, but are limited to essential activities only.

Even if the wrestling team could practice, they’re not able to use the John Owen Wrestling Room, located upstairs in Christianson Gym, at the moment.

“They converted it to a weight room during the pandemic,” Sebaaly said. “Now, we’re waiting on the go-ahead for them to convert it back.”

School officials have said the room will be changed back for wrestling sometime next week.

But while NIC waits to get going, other programs in the National Junior College Activities Association (NJCAA) began practices on Jan. 4.

“There’s definitely some frustration from the athletes,” Sebaaly said. “They’re struggling more with mental health than COVID right now. They want to compete, and our kids would like to be going. NIC has been a place where they come to advance themselves athletically and academically.”

The national wrestling tournament is April 21-22 in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

NIC’s wrestling program is the only sport that competes in the NJCAA.

“Wrestling is a little different than other sports because time is of the essence,” Sebaaly said. “The NWAC has been good with working with the different institutions. Right now, our athletes are struggling with not being able to compete.”

Sebaaly added that his wrestlers are tested daily for COVID.

"They've got to fill out a health report each day," Sebaaly said. "They get temperature checks and our wearing masks on campus and in classes. Our kids have really stepped up to the plate and done everything to compete and get going."

In a normal year, NIC's first wrestling matches would be in late October, with nationals in late February or early March.

Idaho high school programs also began their seasons late — in mid-December.

That, combined with Washington and Oregon delaying wrestling to the spring, meant NIC had to cancel the annual Tri-State Invitational in December, which features the top high school programs from the northwest, a big fundraiser for the wrestling program.

"Thankfully, we're seeing progress when it comes to hosting events," Sebaaly said. "Rollie Lane is going on this weekend (in Nampa), so we're seeing some tournaments being held again, which is good going forward."

The West District — formally known as the Region 18 Championships — is scheduled for April 4. NIC's spring break is scheduled for March 28 to April 2. With that in mind, wrestlers won't be allowed to return home for spring break.

"We're just hoping that gives us a chance to compete at districts and nationals," Sebaaly said. "We're following all the protocols, but also understanding of the pandemic going on as well."

Sebaaly added that due to restrictions in Oregon and Washington, NIC could wind up hosting the district tournament — if conditions allow.

When allowed, the wrestling team will practice in pods, with eight at a time in the wrestling room, along with two coaches.

"There's no reason to have the 125-pound kids to be in the room at the same time as the heavyweights," Sebaaly said. "We've had Zoom meetings and have met virtually and were able to do some weightlifting and conditioning together in the fall. But the athletes want to do what they came here to do."

Due to most of the men's basketball team at NIC being in town already, coach Corey Symons expects the team to be able to begin workouts on Jan. 18.

"We've been doing Zoom meetings once a week and have a group text within the team," Symons said. "We've been able to stay in good contact and make sure they're in a good place and ready to attack the spring semester."

NIC basketball teams normally begin practice in early November.

With no games on the schedule as of yet, Symons has been able to spend more time with family — either at home or in a gymnasium somewhere.

His daughter, Madi, is a sophomore on the Coeur d'Alene High girls basketball team. His wife, Nicole, is the Vikings' head coach.

"It's been kind of a blessing in disguise," Symons said. "I want to be coaching and playing games for sure. I've never been able to coach my son (Caden), and now I can coach his AAU team. It's kind of nice to be with the family and not on the road as much, but it's also tough because I'm out of my routine and not with my team. The crazy thing is we're fortunate because we're on campus and going to class. But these kids want to be doing their stuff."

VOLLEYBALL COACH Kelsey Stanley said that while a few players didn't return in the fall due to the pandemic, they'll be back on campus this semester.

"Most of the out-of-state girls stayed home, but we had a few that stayed on campus," said Stanley, who said she's met virtually with the players at least three times a week. "It's been unique and different. Everything we've been trying has been new. We'll do Zoom and FaceTime meetings when we need to talk to them individually. Honestly, it's just been a day-by-day with what we've had to deal with and just finding a way to make it work."

NIC's volleyball team usually begins practice in August. This year, the Cardinals can't start until Jan. 30.

NIC's soccer teams usually play in the fall, but this year won't start playing games until late March. The Cardinal softball team can begin practicing late this month.

And as for recruiting, Stanley added that has been tough as well.

"We usually get into recruiting with club ball in the spring, but haven't been able to do that," Stanley said. "We don't know if club tournaments will be going on this year anyway. We've been doing a lot of recruiting in this area, which has been awesome. With COVID, it just seems like they're wanting to stay closer to home."

Like in all cases, coaches are still figuring things out as they go.

"I couldn't imagine going to college right now," Stanley said. "It's a social thing to be at college, and to take that away from them, it's hard. When you take away a sport, it's really hard. We just want to do what's best for them. I feel for these athletes, but am hoping that this semester, they can get that normalcy back."

Or maybe as close as it can be.

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