A pandemic offseason: How women’s basketball adjusts to a new normal


The women’s basketball team’s first Zoom meeting in April. 

Associate head coach Fran Recchia spends much of her time these days at her kitchen table, searching for future Flashes.

“[I spend] at least two hours a day,” she said, “watching film or highlights or calling coaches.”

Freshman forward Nila Blackford starts each morning practicing yoga on a mat on her deck in Louisville, Kentucky.

“I do it to wake my body up, stretch, work on my flexibility and ease my mind,” Blackford said.

Sophomore guard Hannah Young has packed and carried box after box to her family’s new home.

“They were pretty heavy boxes and furniture,” Young said. “I lifted about 25 things a day when we were moving.” 

In a world where the coronavirus keeps people at home, offseason activities take place in basements, bedrooms and driveways. Recchia, Blackford, Young and the rest of the women’s basketball team are recruiting, training and connecting in ways they never imagined.

“This is an unprecedented thing for anybody in our lifetimes,” coach Todd Starkey said.

Recruiting from the kitchen

To help try to prevent the spread of the virus, the NCAA banned coaches from visiting players and players from visiting campus. High school basketball tournaments and spring AAU basketball were canceled, so coaches haven’t seen prospective players in person since at least March.

“Everybody’s trying to be creative right now,” Starkey said. “We are using social media and FaceTime with current high school juniors.”

Most seniors have already signed with colleges; coaches are not allowed to contact high school freshmen and sophomores.

When Starkey talks to prospective players, the conversation doesn’t often start with basketball.

“We’re interested in the whole person whether this [the coronavirus] is going on or not,” Starkey said. “We want to know what motivates them and what’s important to them. Those are probably the first things we talk about on calls, then we move into basketball.”

When Recchia evaluates tape, she prefers watching full games instead of highlights.

“You can see them on both sides of the ball,” Recchia said. “You can see how they respond to mistakes on the defensive end, or after turning the ball over, or missing a shot, or being subbed out.”

It is still not the same as being at a game.

“When you’re there in person, everything’s just a bit clearer,” Recchia said. “You can see how they are when they’re receiving tough coaching, their eye contact and response to their coach.”

She also watches what players do when the game is over.

“Are they helping pick up the bench? Are they the first ones out? Are the parents carrying their bags?” she said. “Things like that you don’t really get to see on film.”

Recchia spends a lot of time talking to coaches about a player’s strengths and weaknesses — but also emphasizes what kind of person they are.

“You rely on a lot of relationships with their coaches,” Recchia said.

Usually, Kent State will not offer a player a scholarship solely based off of video.

“In normal circumstances, that almost never happens,” Starkey said. “We’re looking at more video, but it doesn’t mean that getting video from recruits is going to lead us to offering just because we see a player have a good highlight tape. 

“It’s more involved in that. It’s understanding who a player is, how they react to adversity, how they react to coaching, those different types of things. It’s certainly not a simple process.

“In a situation like this, we are starting to get involved with some players we’ve only seen on film. That may need to be the case at least in the short term.”

Training at home: Using what’s available

With stay-at-home orders in effect, players cannot go to gyms or work out in groups.

“I’ve been going on runs in the parks that are open,” sophomore Lindsey Thall said. “The training staff gave us some ball-handling drills.”

Sophomore Mariah Modkins works out two to three times a day.

“I do cardio, weight lifting, some basketball and boxing,” Modkins said. “I just make the most that I can with the resources I have. 

“One of the things that comes with being a student athlete is self-motivation. You know what you need and how to adapt to what your body is telling you. You know if you need more rest or extra workouts.”

Blackford started practicing yoga as a unique way to stay in shape. 

“It’s something active, and I can’t just sit around all day,” Blackford said. “I’ve also been doing things like running and weight lifting to help maintain overall strength and endurance.”

Kent State’s training staff sent out some home workouts to help the players that do not have access to a lot of equipment.

“The workouts include a lot of body-weight and using dumbbells,” Young said. “It’s a lot of lunges, squats, push-ups, pull-ups and core-type workouts.”

The workouts compensate for lack of equipment with more repetitions.

“It’s been a lot of body-weight workouts for strength,” Thall said. “They have us do more reps instead of higher weights because a lot of us don’t have home gyms.”

Keeping busy: Quarantine style

Mostly, the players are like other students. They do school work and try to entertain themselves.

For many, having all online classes is an adjustment.

“It’s really easy for you to be like, ‘All right, I’m just going to hold off on this and push it to tomorrow,’” Blackford said, “because you aren’t forced to go to class and do the whole face-to-face type of interaction. Online is definitely more challenging, but it’s still class and still a priority you need to have.”

Young, a physical education major, doesn’t think some of her classes work as well online.

“A lot of my classes are based on participation and take place in a gym,” Young said. “My professors have had to change the whole curriculum and figure out a way to put it online. It’s been a lot of lectures and essays, so it’s a lot more time consuming.” 

Redshirt senior Megan Carter finished her degree in December and has been taking classes to keep her eligibility.

“It’s a little hard to stay focused,” Carter said. “I am taking ‘unnecessary’ classes, so it’s a little hard. But I just have to finish strong in these last few weeks.”

Netflix is a popular diversion.

“I’ve watched Rhythm + Flow and All American,” Blackford said. “I just watch whatever looks good. Sometimes I watch basketball and other sports reruns.”

“I watched Tiger King,” Young said. “I’m not really into documentaries, but my friends told me ,‘You have to watch this.’ By the end of it I was thinking, ‘Everyone’s just crazy.’”

Keeping in touch from a distance

In early April, the team posted a TikTok video, which begins with Thall and freshman guard Clare Kelly shopping in a grocery cart like a Chef Boyardee commercial.

“As a kid I always used to watch that commercial,” Thall said. “Clare and I thought it would be a great idea to incorporate basketball into it.”

So the ball bounces off a shelf and down the aisle after they walk by. Then it cuts to Modkins chasing it down the street while spraying Lysol on it, then other players follow it down streets, fields and beaches until it bounces back to Thall and Kelly unloading their groceries. 

The players miss each other.

“They are some of your closest friends because you are with them every single day,” Thall said. “So it’s completely different not being able to see them.”

So the players keep in touch electronically. 

“We have a group chat that we’re always talking with each other through,” Young said. “We talk about how to do certain workouts and what everyone is up to. We’re a pretty close team, so it’s not too hard to stay in touch.”

This week marked the start of online team meetings through Zoom.

“I’m so used to seeing them in person, so it was different seeing them on a computer screen,” Blackford said. “It was good to be able to see and connect with everyone.”

The meetings are used as a time to catch up and update on everything.

“It’s nice to see everybody’s face in the same place,” Starkey said. “It’s a lot of information sharing, talking about their off-season workout schedule, encouraging them to finish strong academically and looking at what a summer schedule might look like. We give them an opportunity to ask questions and be together when we’re apart.”

The coaching staff also tries to talk to the players individually each week.

“We check in to see how they’re doing, how their family is doing and their mindset right now,” Recchia said. “We talk very little about basketball. It’s different times for everyone, so we are trying to help them process it and find their new normal.”

Kathryn Rajnicek is a sports reporter. Contact her at [email protected].