Scheduling in the Time of COVID: How CSU’s Tenth Straight Win Materialized


Here are some news and notes from what’s been, to say the least, an unconventional two weeks for Cleveland State women’s basketball.

CSU Buries OCU to Remain Unbeaten

With its 104-51 win over NAIA school Ohio Christian on Saturday, Cleveland State climbed to an official 9-0, and 7-0 in games that actually took place. While a three-ball-loving OCU squad offered some pushback, particularly late in the first quarter when a Rachel Bolyard layup cut the CSU margin to just 18-15, Deja Williams immediately followed with a buzzer-beating three to signal the beginning of the end of the Trailblazers.

The victory, paced by Gabby Smith’s 23 points, along with Nadia Dumas’ 17 points with seven rebounds, was the 13th time in program history that the Vikings exceeded 100 points. CSU also tied a program record with 31 assists (on 42 made field goals), and extended its winning streak to ten, one shy of the program record set during the 2019-20 season.

COVID and the fact that forfeits typically aren’t counted towards winning streaks cost the program the distinction of holding the longest winning streak in the country, a claim it was able to make earlier this season. Nevertheless, the Vikings remain one of only seven unbeaten teams in the country headed into its Tuesday night contest against former Horizon League rival Loyola Chicago.

Of those other six, top-ranked South Carolina is scheduled for a showdown with Stanford on Tuesday, while North Carolina puts their record on the line against Alabama State.

A Routine Crisis

Assistant coach Bob Dunn had quite the week after finding out that Hofstra, the Vikings opponent initially scheduled for Saturday, would be unable to make the trip to Cleveland due to COVID protocols. Dunn, who handles the team’s scheduling, was forced into emergency action on Tuesday or Wednesday when finding out that the Pride had been shut down.

It’s a situation that’s unfortunately become common in COVID times – in fact, of five games involving Horizon League teams scheduled for Saturday, only two went off exactly as planned. Sometimes, the circumstances dictate that the game be declared a washout with no substitute necessary, as has happened for three CSU games this season. Other times, coaches and staffers need to scramble to find something, anything.

Even in this second COVID season, there really isn’t an established playbook for scheduling a game on short notice. Coaches sometimes take to Twitter and throw their game request out into cyberspace, which stands a decent chance of working if you’re someone with the profile of Rick Pitino and offering a game at Madison Square Garden, but typically communications are more of an off-the-record volume game.

“[Dunn] did an incredible job with it,” head coach Chris Kielsmeier said. “The next day or two [after learning of Hofstra’s situation], we focused on all NCAA Division I, Division II schools and weren’t looking at anybody else. After we were striking out left and right, every which way possible, the next day, Thursday morning, Coach Dunn sent an email to every NAIA school in the state of Ohio, asking them if they were available to play this weekend.”

Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. At the same time Cleveland State was asking around, so was IUPUI. The Jaguars, like CSU, had a COVID stricken opponent for Saturday (Eastern Michigan) and undoubtedly, the outreach of the schools in neighboring states overlapped at least once. IUPUI did not end up playing a game on Saturday.

However, by practice on Thursday afternoon, roughly 48 hours out from the game, Dunn had two yes answers, with Ohio Christian eventually making the trip up from Circleville. Kielsmeier estimated that they received a no from 100 different schools (to say nothing of the undoubtedly large volume of messages with no response).

“We were looking at anything. It’s not like we were targeting somebody, we were looking for anybody who would play us, and it made sense,” he said. “You can only travel so far, and were we going to travel coming off of [COVID pause] and the world we’re living in right now? There are so many factors that go into it, but at the end of the day, there’s no factors that go into it if nobody will say yes.”

“Our administration is just phenomenal,” Kielsmeier added. “I don’t have to sit down and ask ‘what can we do, what can we give them, what is this, what is that,’ it’s just ‘go get it done, and work with [deputy athletic director Kelsie Gory Harkey] for facilities and staffing.’ So I’ve got one person I’ve got to talk to about the game, and everybody else is just standing by like ‘tell me when, where, and let’s go.'”

“This wasn’t ideal, but we got them back on the floor.”

The Other Side of the COVID Lottery

Of course, a lot of the urgency driving the idea of getting some sort of replacement on the schedule came from the fact that CSU was coming off its own COVID pause. Positive tests in the Vikings program postponed a game at Akron that had been set for December 12th. They also wiped out any sort of organized team activities for ten days of the period between the team’s last contest – December 3rd at Northern Kentucky – and Saturday.

The Vikings only returned to practice on Thursday, just in time for Dunn to burst into the gym to show off an email from OCU on his phone.

“We had no contact with [the players],” Kielsmeier said. “We could give them workouts and stuff, and they could go to the rec center and work out on their own. They were committed to doing that because when they came in on Thursday, we looked like we could play a game on Saturday. And if they didn’t look like that, then we wouldn’t have played it, because of the risk of physical harm.”

While the coach declined to give precise numbers (and probably isn’t even allowed to do so), he did say that some of the Vikings’ positive tests were breakthrough cases, and that his program is “super close to 100 percent [vaccination],” a phrase that probably speaks for itself.

Whatever the case may be, CSU seems to be through the worst of it, at least this time around. Saturday sort of represented an unofficial recalibration for everyone ahead of a tough non-conference finale and, of course, the re-start of Horizon League competition.

“It’s one thing to run up and down the floor, and it’s another to be good at drills, but when you get in your system stuff, regardless of who you’re playing, you’ve got to be able to do some things and function,” Kielsmeier said. “And you’re probably pretty fatigued, and that’s what our players were dealing with [on Saturday].”

“These last two days were hard on everybody.”

Leo Misses OCU Contest

It may mean something, and it may not, but leading scorer Destiny Leo sat out of Saturday’s game against Ohio Christian.

If there was ever a situation to rest a star point guard that takes on loads of physical and mental responsibility in Cleveland State’s system, it’s against an NAIA fill-in opponent that the Vikings can still beat by 53 points without her. Then again, given the COVID-altered logistics of the last two weeks, and the expressed urgency of getting everyone back on the court, that explanation doesn’t make a ton of sense.

Kielsmeier declined comment on Leo’s status, but Tuesday is likely to tell a lot more of the story.

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