For the second time in as many months, the Coles Express NBL1 South season has come to a standstill due to COVID-19.
In the wake of last week’s five-day Victorian lockdown, the 13th round of the season was postponed and with South Australia also frozen until next Tuesday, a resumption in play in the near future appears unclear.
It was a big blow for the Mount Gambier Pioneers as both the men and women were hoping to record a second successive victory at the Ice House against Kilsyth last weekend.
Both teams were ramping up preparations for the big game when the announcement to stop play was made last Thursday and Mount Gambier Pioneers president Tom Kosch could not hide his disappointment.
He said the club understood the decision and anticipates a decision about the remainder of the season soon.
“It was disappointing, but expected as well given the situation in Victoria,” Kosch said.
“Unfortunately, there is little we can do about the situation, but we will deal with what we can each day.
“The league itself has done a tremendous job as far as supporting the teams, trying to get to a point where we are clear what the rest of the season might look like, which I’m sure we hear about in the coming days.
“Hopefully the state of Victoria can get on top of the issue and we can return to basketball soon.” The previous Victorian lockdown in June kept the Pioneers away from the court for six weeks and two games could not be rescheduled as a result.
With 15 of the 18 NBL1 South teams located in Victoria and South Australia also forced into lockdown earlier this week, Mount Gambier might be forced to play the waiting game once again with its away games against Diamond Valley Eagles and Waverley Falcons scheduled this Saturday and Sunday unlikely.
However, Kosch said NBL1 is working around the clock to ensure round 14 proceeds as scheduled this weekend, but it seems to be near on impossible after Tuesday’s announcement.
“They are working towards finding solutions around everything without making anything official,” he said.
“The following rounds are still in the balance given we are unsure of what restrictions will be in place this weekend.
“Basketball Victoria are working really hard to make sure we have a fair and equitable season and go about completing it in the best way possible.” Playing at home for the first more than five weeks, the Pioneers put on a show last weekend against Sandringham.
Both the men and women claimed vital wins and respective coaches Richard Hill and Matt Sutton were looking to continue the momentum with another strong performance against Kilsyth on Saturday night.
A potentially extended break could be costly for both teams as the Castec Rural Pioneers still have plenty of work to do to seal a finals berth, while the OneFortyOne women are hitting their straps in a strong recovery from a difficult start to the season.
Kosch said the latest postponement was a tough peel to swallow for the Mount Gambier players.
“I must admit the disappointment has been difficult for our teams because the momentum they have been showing on the court has been really pleasing,” he said.
“Our women have just come off a really good weekend playing Geelong and Sandringham, while our men also did well to get some tough wins.” To stay match fit and cover the loss of the Sabres clash, the women’s team held a friendly practice match in front of spectators at the Ice House on Saturday night.
The scrimmage helped the team maintain its skills in a competitive and tight contest and gave fans their basketball fix for the weekend.
But a lost home game to COVID is yet another setback for the Pioneers’ books after the entire 2020 season was wiped out.
Kosch said the team will navigate through the latest challenge with the help of its sponsors, while all ticket holders for last weekend’s ill-fated game have been refunded.
“It has been quite challenging financially for us,” he said.
“We have tried to organise a number of fundraising events, but restrictions have impacted our ability to run our major auction night.
“But our sponsors and the people that support us year in year out have done an amazing job fronting up with the uncertain cloud of COVID, so we are very thankful for their support.” With just a month left before the minor-round season is scheduled to come to an end, time is running out for the remaining five rounds to be played.
Kosch said the Pioneers are prepared to help all parties finish the competition off, even if that meant more long road trips.
“We remain optimistic about it and are willing to support the entire league in finishing the season in the best and safest way,” he said.
“There’s obviously challenges at the current time that we’re dealing with, but we remain confident NBL1 will do everything they can to make sure we can play out the season as fairly as possible.”