By Loretta Bonifacio
The beginning of spring marks a welcome transition, albeit a delayed one for City College’s women’s basketball team. The Lady Rams officially returned to Ocean Campus during the first week of February, eager to strengthen their bodies and minds.
Prior to February, the team hadn’t formally stepped onto the court in nearly a year. For the 2019-20 season, the team’s 21-8 record showed promise. A consistently impressive run culminated on March 7 in the third round of the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) State Playoffs after a 77-63 loss to the Diablo Valley College Vikings. On March 17, San Francisco enforced a strict lockdown to combat COVID-19.
But with the guidance of the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH), the team is back to conditioning three times a week. The campus return is divided into three phases: working out outside, returning to the gym, and playing scrimmages. The team is currently in phase two. Women’s basketball head coach Derek Lau detailed the precision of this moment. “Athletes and coaches are tested once a week. After negative tests are returned, we’re all 12 feet apart in a pod,” Lau said. Time in the gym is capped at 90 minutes, leaving 30 minutes in between uses for deep sanitation of the facilities.
“A year is a long time for an athlete,” Lau said. “It’ll take them four or five months to get their senses back.”
Lau aims to have two scrimmage games before the end of the semester in May, should SFDPH approve. The long-term goal is to spend the summer in the gym to prepare for the fall 2021-22 season, which is guaranteed to be competitive around the Coast Conference. Ten players are returning to train for the scrimmages. As of now, it’s too early in the year to tell which recruits will tentatively join the program.
The time spent apart for the last year was used wisely. Lau and his staff exhausted all options for team-building activities, from study halls to bingo nights. “Doing things together was important because not meeting in person was devastating to the team,” Lau said. “Their mental health was affected, but they knew how to support each other.”
“We’ve learned a lot about what they can do and what they’re capable of,” Lau added. “They’re stronger than ever.” Because all team workouts and meetings have been over Zoom and not in the gym, the team inched towards a slow, steady rebuild. “The goal is to get stronger and reach a level where they’re used to performing,” Lau said.
Coach Lau’s holistic approach to strength and conditioning pays considerable attention to perfecting shooting form and footwork, along with strengthening arm and leg muscles. Over 75% of the team has lost muscle mass and is easing back into weight lifting.
Tactfully relearning the fundamentals is crucial to injury prevention. ACL tears are prevalent among female athletes and are challenging to overcome. “During agility drills, I’m constantly telling them to slow it down,” Lau said. “But some of them will push it.”
The love of the game and the desire to compete motivates players to train at a high level; ask forward Becca Tasi and power forward Talo’au’au Li-Uperesa. Li-Uperesa said that the team’s chemistry was the same upon returning and that “it just took a couple of days for people to break the ice with the freshmen.”
“We also had to push each other to want to come and adjust to how things are now,” Li-Uperesa said. “Now we’re constantly encouraging and pushing each other throughout drills.”
For Li-Uperesa, training is a restorative practice. “Basketball and being around my team is my way of taking care of my mental health because it’s my break and time away from everything.”
The lack of structure posed during the “pandemic challenged us all as individuals and it either broke you or made you push harder to stay focused on your goal,” Tasi said.
Trust and communication have gone a long way on and off the court. “We trust each other and don’t hesitate to open up to one another when we need advice or just to talk to someone,” Tasi said.
Tasi contemplates what a full season will look like. Like her other teammates, she thrives on familial support. But because fans may not be allowed in the gym yet, games will be radically different.
Still, Tasi understands there’s so much to look forward to. “This is my last year at City. This is my chance to put my whole heart into it. Basketball was almost taken away from me and now that I have it back, I’m giving 120% every time.”