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UC Irvine, Vanguard, Orange Coast and Golden West sports impacted by coronavirus pandemic

UC Irvine’s Russell Turner, pictured yelling at his team in a March 10, 2017, game, was supposed to coach the Anteaters on Thursday until the Big West Conference canceled the men’s basketball tournament.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

When the Ivy League opted to cancel its season-ending men’s and women’s basketball tournaments on Tuesday, the programs involved wondered why they had been singled out.

A great many more conferences have since followed suit. The tipping point in the sport of basketball appeared to come on Wednesday night.

The NBA suspended its season on Wednesday after it came to light that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. By Thursday morning, it was also revealed that Gobert’s teammate, guard Donovan Mitchell, had contracted the disease.

A handful of power conferences had canceled their men’s and women’s basketball tournaments on Thursday morning by 9:30 PST. Among them were the ACC, the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Pac-12 and the SEC.

At that point, it was inevitable that the fallout would also impact local programs like UC Irvine, and before the top of the hour, the Big West announced that the remainder of its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments would not be taking place.

“When I saw [the Ivy League cancellations], and that it was unanimous among their presidents, I really worked to educate myself on why that would be,” UCI men’s basketball coach Russell Turner said. “The more information that I got and the more that I learned, the more for certain that I felt that this was a possibility and then a probability. It’s kind of played out the way for us that it has in other countries, and so I’m not surprised.

“I’m disappointed for our players, but I do think that our leadership in the Big West, I think they got it right. As disappointing as it is, I think this is the right thing.”

The Big West had earlier in the week made the determination that the tournament would go on, but only with essential personnel. No spectators would be allowed in as a precaution for preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

“I think our players were legitimately very concerned with the idea that we would play without fans, especially because in the Big West, we said that we were going to play without parents,” Turner said. “I did question that decision when it was made, but obviously, we never got to that point on the men’s side. I think there was a tipping point for our players when the NBA suspended their season.

“Another tipping point this morning when we learned not only that Rudy Gobert had the coronavirus, but one of his teammates had it. I think that there was some legitimate concern and fear among players who have been educated about this virus and its deadly nature and the seriousness of this issue. I think all of my guys wanted to play despite those concerns, but it’s impossible to not acknowledge that there were concerns.”

The top-seeded Anteaters (21-11) were scheduled to open the Big West men’s basketball tournament against No. 8 Long Beach State (11-21) on Thursday at 6 p.m. at Honda Center in Anaheim.

As the regular-season champion, UCI had been awarded the conference’s automatic-qualifying bid into the NCAA Tournament, which was beginning to look very much in doubt.

“I told them that I’m proud of them, that we won the conference by three games, so we left no doubt with that,” said Turner, who led the Anteaters to a 13-3 record in the conference. “For that, we can be proud.”

Turner also hoped that his team could take a couple of life lessons away from this experience. The first was that you do not always get what you want and to appreciate what you do have. The second was that government and leadership matter.

“Hard decisions are ones that we’ll all face, and when we face them, we have to respond with courage,” he added.

One of the hardest decisions was made Thursday afternoon, when the NCAA decided to cancel, rather than postpone, its men’s and women’s basketball championship tournaments.

Anteaters senior point guard Eyassu Worku, a Los Alamitos High alumnus, said he was heartbroken to not be able to play in March Madness one more time, but he understood that decisions were being made “for the safety of the world.”

“College basketball, it’s just so pure,” Worku said. “There’s no money around. You’re not getting paid to play. You’re playing for your school. You’re playing for your pride. In the NCAA Tournament, I feel like that is the peak of where it’s all at. Everyone loves watching March Madness because you can see all the upsets. You just see everything.

“It’s hard as a senior and realizing that you don’t get the opportunity to play again.”

The UCI women’s basketball team had its season come to an end with a 70-49 loss to Cal Poly on Wednesday night in a Big West Tournament quarterfinal game at Long Beach State’s Walter Pyramid.

No spectators were allowed into the contest.

“Long Beach did a really good job, along with the Big West staff, of kind of keeping the noise, the music,” UCI women’s basketball coach Tamara Inoue said of the game’s atmosphere. “They did what they could.

“Obviously, looking up and not being able to see your family, seeing your close ones, your supporters, your boosters there, obviously that one hurts, but we had a clear understanding as to why and knew why we were doing it, so we were OK with it.”

In addition to the cancellation of its basketball conference championships, the Big West announced on Friday that it has canceled all of its spring competition and championships. The conference modified its original decision to indefinitely suspend spring sports after the NCAA decided to cancel all remaining winter and spring championships.

NCAA president Mark Emmert and the Board of Governors made the decision to cancel the NCAA championships. The move was based on the COVID-19 public health threat, the ability to ensure such events did not contribute to the spread of the disease, and the impracticality of hosting those events given decisions made by other entities.

Similar decisions have been made across professional sports. The NHL and MLS also suspended their seasons, while MLB delayed opening day. In golf, the Masters Tournament has also been postponed.

Vanguard, an NAIA program that plays in the Golden State Athletic Conference, and Orange Coast College and Golden West College, junior college programs that are part of the Orange Empire Conference, have also been affected by the coronavirus.

The NAIA canceled all of its remaining winter championship events on Thursday, stating that the health and safety of its student-athletes and those involved with the championship events is its top priority.

In response to the coronavirus being labeled as a pandemic, the Golden State Athletic Conference also suspended competition for its spring sports through March 25.

Orange Coast College athletic director Jason Kehler said that the school plans to act in accordance with whatever steps the Coast Community College District and the California Community College Athletic Assn. decide upon with regard to the coronavirus.

“We’re actually still working through what our next steps are,” Kehler said. “We are operating on the direction of the district. The district had sent out some messaging yesterday, so we are just staying posted on that, as well as the CCCAA, so we will make our adjustments based off the decisions made from those bodies.”

Starting Friday, sporting events involving Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley and Laguna Beach high schools will not be played indefinitely due to ongoing concern about the coronavirus.

While the campus remains open, OCC President Angelica Suarez stated in a note to students on the school website that many classes will move to an online or alternative method of instruction during the week of March 16-20.

The statement also addressed college events, saying that OCC is “assessing what events may be booked, rescheduled, or canceled.” Part of the assessment includes the application of social distancing, which has been widely recommended to prevent the spread of disease.

The Coast Community College District also oversees Golden West College. The Rustlers’ softball game at home on Friday against Orange Coast has been postponed.

On Thursday night, the CCCAA postponed all spring sports competition, practices and nontraditional seasons indefinitely.

Below are the college sporting events involving local programs that have been canceled or postponed on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Thursday

MEN’S BASKETBALL

UC Irvine in Big West Conference Tournament at Honda Center has been canceled.

MEN’S TENNIS

UC Irvine at home against East Carolina has been canceled.

Orange Coast at Irvine Valley has been postponed.

WOMEN’S TENNIS

UC Irvine at home against Abilene Christian has been canceled.

Orange Coast at home against Irvine Valley has been postponed.

WOMEN’S WATER POLO

UC Irvine at home against Azusa Pacific has been canceled.

Friday

MEN’S BASKETBALL

Big West Conference Tournament at Honda Center has been canceled.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

Big West Conference Tournament at Honda Center has been canceled.

BASEBALL

UC Irvine at home against Missouri State has been canceled.

Vanguard at home against Westmont College has been postponed.

MEN’S VOLLEYBALL

UC Irvine at home against Penn State has been canceled.

Vanguard against Arizona Christian has been postponed.

SOFTBALL

Vanguard doubleheader at Menlo College has been postponed.

Orange Coast at Golden West has been postponed.

MEN’S GOLF

UC Irvine at Grand Canyon University Invitational in Phoenix, Ariz., has been canceled.

Vanguard against the University of La Verne and Occidental College at Tustin Ranch Golf Course has been postponed.

MEN’S TRACK & FIELD

UC Irvine, Golden West and Orange Coast at the Ben Brown Invitational at Cal State Fullerton has been canceled.

WOMEN’S TRACK & FIELD

UC Irvine, Golden West and Orange Coast at the Ben Brown Invitational at Cal State Fullerton has been canceled.

WOMEN’S BEACH VOLLEYBALL

Orange Coast at Riverside has been postponed.

Orange Coast against San Diego Mesa at Riverside has been postponed.

WOMEN’S WATER POLO

UC Irvine at home against UCLA has been canceled.

Saturday

MEN’S BASKETBALL

Big West Conference Tournament at Honda Center has been canceled.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

Big West Conference Tournament at Honda Center has been canceled.

BASEBALL

UC Irvine at home against Missouri State has been canceled.

Vanguard doubleheader at home against Westmont College has been postponed.

MEN’S TRACK & FIELD

UC Irvine, Golden West and Orange Coast at the Ben Brown Invitational at Cal State Fullerton has been canceled.

Vanguard at the Spring Break Classic in Los Angeles has been canceled.

WOMEN’S TRACK & FIELD

UC Irvine, Golden West at the Ben Brown Invitational at Cal State Fullerton has been canceled.

Vanguard at the Spring Break Classic in Los Angeles has been canceled.

SOFTBALL

Vanguard doubleheader at William Jessup has been postponed.

Golden West doubleheader at home against San Bernardino Valley.

MEN’S VOLLEYBALL

Vanguard at home against Ottawa has been postponed.

BEACH VOLLEYBALL

Vanguard against Boise State at Cal State Northridge has been postponed.

Vanguard at Cal State Northridge has been postponed.

MEN’S GOLF

UC Irvine at Grand Canyon University Invitational in Phoenix, Ariz., has been canceled.

WOMEN’S STUNT

Vanguard at home against BYU has been canceled.

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Updates

4:51 PM, Mar. 13, 2020: The article was updated with additional sporting events that have been canceled due to the coronavirus.

This article was originally published on March 12 at 6:42 p.m.


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