New A-K Valley basketball coaches go through obstacles of another shutdown

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Saturday, December 19, 2020 | 8:28 PM


The first year at the head of a program can be tough for any new coach, but imagine taking over a program in the middle of a pandemic.

Then, as some might have expected, everything just stops.

Practices. Games. In-person, face-to-face camaraderie. Everything. It’s all put on pause for three weeks just as teams were starting to get going.

Well, that’s the situation that new basketball coaches around the Alle-Kiski Valley find themselves in this winter.

Just as games were getting set to begin, Gov. Tom Wolf announced he was putting a “pause” on high school sports until Jan. 4 to aid in the effort of stopping the spread of covid-19 as cases continued to spike around the state.

For Knoch boys basketball coach Alan Bauman and Springdale girls basketball coach Jerry Clark, the situation was unfortunate as they were starting to reach a level of comfort with their new programs. Now they have to find a way through the next three weeks.

“The biggest concern I have right now, especially with a foot and a half of snow on the ground, is how much of the conditioning and lifting they built up are they going to lose during this three-week layoff?” Clark said.

Fortunately for Clark, he’s been working with his players for the last few years at the junior high level. He also held open gyms with them through the summer and fall, so the relationship between player and coach was developed well before official practices started Nov. 20.

Bauman was in a different situation. He was hired in the middle of October, so he was already working on a short schedule while getting to know his team. Before the season got put on pause, Bauman thought he and his team were starting to get on the same page in terms of the standards that he wanted to be met as a coach.

“I felt like the kids were starting to realize where I was going to stand as a coach in certain situations, and I know that I was starting to get to know them too,” Bauman said. “So this slows that down a little bit, but every team is different, and no matter whether you’ve been coaching for 20 years or 30 years, at least for us as a staff, it’s all about expectations. I think the kids have a good idea of where our expectations are as a staff.”

Like Clark, Bauman had worries about his team staying in shape during the three-week shutdown but said he put it on his seniors to check in with teammates to make sure they are staying ready for the restart of the season.

The Knights were also able to gain a little advantage before they were shut down.

On Friday, Dec. 13, they played Mars in order to get one game in before being shut down until 2021. They lost the game, 79-59, but junior Ryan Lang scored 29 points and Bauman got a good look at what his players would need to work on when they return.

If it wasn’t for that game, Bauman said these next three weeks might have been a different story.

“I can’t tell you how big that game was, in so many ways,” Bauman said. “It allowed us to evaluate where we are against a quality opponent, it allowed our kids to get rewarded and have a game, and we talked about it being bigger than basketball, so let’s go out and have a lot of fun. It provided endless amount of teachable moments for us to watch film as a team, watch film individually and talk guys through what we see and what we need to do.”

Clark and the Dynamos didn’t get a chance to play a game last Friday, but over the course of the past few months, the first-year head coach said they’ve been able to work together enough that the girls have a good handle on the playbook. He said he also has a group chat with his team so he can check in with them on occasion to see how they are doing and if they are keeping up with their conditioning.

While some other first-year coaches may struggle with a three-week pause in the middle of their first year as a coach, Clark seems pretty confident with the way his players have handled it so far. When they do return, Clark expects them to hit the ground running.

“As far as the mental aspect and them knowing where to be and things like that, I’d probably need a day or two before I’d feel comfortable putting them on the court and have reasonable expectation where they’d be able to pull off plays,” Clark said. “Then again, they need to go against other competition other than themselves to really test it. But I feel really confident in their mental abilities and their smarts.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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