Mark Spigarelli has coached basketball for 30-some years. He’s seen a lot over that time, and none of it prepared him for what he and the Blue Springs girls endured the last two days.
“It’s unprecedented,” Spigarelli said. “We’ve had some crazy things happen in the past … but nothing like this.”
What had seemed a certainty – a game against undefeated Liberty for a spot in the Class 5 girls state tournament – became an uncertainty when Silverstein Eye Centers Arena shut its doors until April 5 over concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus following an emergency declaration Thursday by the city of Independence. Would the Wildcats – on the cusp of their first final four appearance since going to five straight from 2009-2013 – get a shot at going to Springfield? Would there still BE a final four in Springfield?
As of Friday afternoon, the Wildcats knew they had at least one more game. It will still tip off at 1 p.m. Saturday, but instead of playing in front of a large crowd at SEC Arena, it will take place in front of an intimate gathering at Blue Springs South.
Per orders from the Missouri State High School Activities Association, each team will be allowed only 60 “essential personnel” inside the gym. That number includes 15 players, four coaches, two administrators and two managers. Parents or family members – each girl gets to invite only two – make up the rest of that number.
And all of them will have to be in the gym an hour before game time. The doors will be locked at 12:15 p.m. and nobody will be allowed in until the next game.
All of which adds another layer of distraction to a time of the season when coaches try to keep distractions to a minimum.
“I tried to watch film most of the day,” Spigarelli said. “The amount of interruptions I probably never sat down and watched 12 straight minutes of film throughout the entire day because of all the stuff going on. There’s a lot of different things that we’re having to deal with that have nothing to do with basketball.”
All those distractions have kept Spigarelli from really delving into the Xs and Os, and he’s been fine with that even with a No. 1-ranked and 27-0 team as his next opponent. On Wednesday, the Wildcats (23-5) looked dialed in, beating Lee’s Summit West 68-58 in sectionals. The next day, not so much.
“Their minds were so scrambled,” Spilgarelli said. “We came in and shot, let them enjoy each other’s company and celebrate their win. We didn’t even talk a lot about Liberty.”
Blue Springs senior guard Aliyah Bello agreed that day was a blur for her and her teammates as they went from celebration to uncertainty.
“My head’s been all over the place, like are we going to play, are we not going to play,” Bello said. “It’s been really hard. Everybody at school’s asking us unanswerable questions.”
Finding those answers has limited Spigarelli’s time from finding an answer for Liberty guard Olivia Nelson, who averages nearly 15 points a game, and 5-10 senior forward Jillian Fleming, who averages almost 14. And how will he free up super-freshman Jada Williams, who pumped in 32 points against Lee’s Summit West?
But even with a final four berth on the line, just getting to play again – with so many teams across sports now denied that opportunity – almost seems the bigger prize.
That’s the approach Spigarelli is going to take.
“I’m not going to lie: based on the world around us, we’re not as prepared as we would probably be,” Spigarelli said. “But the world has been different these last two days. I’m going to enjoy the opportunity to coach this team one more time and hopefully they’re going to enjoy the opportunity of playing together at least one more time and go out and have fun and play hard.”