After many months of COVID-19 induced uncertainty surrounding the basketball season, the University of Portland women and men’s basketball teams recently started the 2020-21 season — the first time any Pilots team has suited up for play since March 10, when the women’s basketball team won the WCC tournament.
The women’s team is currently one and one with a win against Seattle University and a loss against #9 University of Oregon. The men’s team is two and one with wins against William Jessup University and Northwest University and a loss against Seattle University.
In order to get UP in its current position, UP Vice President for Athletics Scott Leykam and his team have worked with Oregon State Governor Kate Brown to get UP basketball an exemption from COVID-19 state restrictions and the Oregon Health Authority to make sure UP is meeting the guidelines required to compete.
“It’s been a long arduous exhausting process for our staff and a lot of the student-athletes,” Leykam said. “Every time we can practice or play a game is a win that speaks to the testing protocols we have in place.”
Although both teams have started the season with winning records, the two programs are coming from very different directions.
The women’s team is coming off their most successful season since the 1996-97 season after finishing the 2019-20 season with 21 wins and 11 losses, winning the WCC tournament and securing a NCAA tournament berth.
The men’s team, on the other hand, finished last year 9-23 overall and last in the WCC at 1-15. Head Coach Terry Porter is entering the final year of his five-year contract. During his tenure as the Head Coach of the Pilots, he has a 37-92 record overall and a 7-71 record in the WCC.
Michael Meek, women’s basketball Head Coach, is excited to get back on the court and is looking at the non-conference games at the front of the schedule as a chance to get back in the swing of things and prepare for conference play.
“We break the year down in different seasons and this is our non-conference season,” Meek said. “It’s really an opportunity for us to look at different rotations and play different kids and also have a chance to get ready for league (competition). We want to use the time to have the best league season possible and to prepare ourselves for the league tournament.”
Meek is looking to compound on the success he had in his first year at UP and return to the same place they were at last March when the NCAA tournament got canceled. He says that everyone has done a great job adapting to this unique situation and hopes that this team can maintain the same positive attitude they’ve had throughout all the uncertainty.
“Last year brought so many great memories and we have so many positive things to take away from that,” Meek said. “The hardest thing for us is to remember how it was and how much work it took to get to that point.”
Ending on the WCC win was bittersweet for the women’s team but junior guard Haylee Andrews hopes they can use that same energy to do well in this next season.
“Things are looking a lot different… but the goal still remains the same,” Andrews said. “Win the WCC title and get that NCAA invitation.”
Andrews’ teammate, Maddie Muhlheim, is looking forward to competing with her teammates again and is trying to make the most of her senior year.
“I just try not to take anything for granted this year and just appreciate all the time that I get to spend with my teammates and coaches,” Muhlheim said.
Muhlheim has had fun being able to practice differently for a while but is ultimately glad to be playing as a team again.
“I think continuing to improve, focusing on the things that we need to get better on, celebrating each other’s successes and just continuing to push each other to reach our potential is the most fun way to play and it’ll lead us to success,” Muhlheim said.
The men’s basketball team is starting the 2020-21 season in a familiar position, projected to finish last in the WCC, but with an almost entirely new roster, with nine new players on the team to start the season.
One of the newcomers, Ahmed Ali, comes to The Bluff by way of the University of Hawaii and Washington State University and will bring experience to the Pilot’s backcourt.
“The way the team is set, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” Ali said in an interview with the WCC. “The guys on the team are all hungry and I am appreciative of that. The way we gel together as a team and communicate on and off the court, I think we are going to be special.”
In an interview Porter did with 910 ESPN-Portland, he said that he is optimistic about the season as they addressed their two biggest weaknesses from last year, depth and scoring, but that one positive COVID-19 test could derail everything.
“The schedule this year is just the schedule on paper, that's all that means, it’s on paper, that doesn’t mean it’s actually gonna be executed,” Porter said. “Everybody is just one positive COVID test away from a lot of adjustments and lost games.”
All home games will be streamed on the WCC network, with some games televised on NBC Sports Northwest, and will be broadcasted on 910 ESPN-Portland (KMTT).
William Seekamp is the Sports Editor for The Beacon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Keawe Strance is a sports reporter for The Beacon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.