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Eastern Oregon University’s Leilani Padilla controls the ball Dec. 18, 2021, during the home game against Walla Walla University. EOU was set to play home games Friday and Saturday, Jan. 7 and 8, 2022, against Warner Pacific and Multnomah until COVID-19 outbreaks on those teams led to forfeits.

LA GRANDE — Something returned to Eastern Oregon University’s athletic schedule it wishes could have left behind in 2021 — forfeits due to COVID-19.

The women’s basketball team will not play both home Cascade Collegiate Conference games this weekend against Warner Pacific and Multnomah because of outbreaks in those programs. The men’s game with Warner Pacific also was canceled while the Multnomah contest on Saturday, Jan. 8, still is on. The wrestling team lost a dual with Warner Pacific scheduled for Jan. 12.

“It is really disappointing, but it is something that we are all dealing with,” said Mountaineers head women’s basketball coach and EOU athletics director Anji Weissenfluh. “It could and most likely will happen to all of us because the new variant is highly contagious.”

Conference COVID-19 guidelines state that anytime a school elects not to participate or has been required to cease based on federal, state or county mandate, the contest will be a forfeit for record and standing purposes.

“It doesn’t feel good to win by forfeit,” Weissenfluh said. “It never feels good to any coach or team. Student-athletes and coaches do this because they love this and they want to play.”

The EOU women’s basketball team sits at 10-7 overall and 7-2 in conference play after receiving the pair of forfeits. It is the third forfeit the Mountaineers have received this season after Corban forfeited a Dec. 31 contest. The men are losing a game because of COVID-19 for the first time this season.

Weissenfluh said the start-stop nature the season can take creates problems with conditioning for all athletes. The Mountaineer women are not scheduled to return to the court until Jan. 14 when they travel to Kirkland, Washington, to take on Northwest.

This is the time of season when teams are looking to make their mark in conference play and begin the ramp up for postseason action, Weissenfluh said.

The Mountaineer women did not practice on Thursday, Jan. 6, and Weissenfluh said they are evaluating the best way forward. That could include practices or even giving the players the weekend off.

“The health and safety of our players is most important,” she said.

Bigger impact

Weissenfluh said the impact of the pandemic is something everyone in the conference and throughout the nation is dealing with. Last season, which did not see EOU’s basketball teams begin play until February, taught the Mountaineers to be flexible and to adjust on the fly.

“Our conference is aligned in how we are handling it in our processes and policies,” Weissenfluh said. “We are allowed to play when we are healthy, and we will be blessed when those opportunities come.”

Having the ability to practice and compete are no longer taken for granted, but that does not mean the last year and a half has been easy on the athletes.

“The struggles have been real,” Weissenfluh said. “Managing their class load, taking more online classes has all been a struggle. We try to acknowledge that and find that balance.

“We want to be positive, but keep it real because it has impacted all of our student-athletes in different ways.”

Safety first

Weissenfluh tells all Mountaineer athletes to control the things they can control. That means wearing a face mask, frequently washing hands, get sleep and eat right.

“We have to be very mindful of who is in our bubble, and who we are being exposed to at all times,” she said. “You can’t control everything, but we are going to do everything in our power to try to stay healthy.”

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