Peninsula College, with one of the winningest athletic programs in the Northwest Athletic Conference (NWAC), won't be competing for a championship this year when the Pirates join most of NWAC for a spring season like no other.
Basketball tips off the 2020-21 season at Skagit Valley on March 31 and soccer opens play, also on the road against the Cardinals, on April 8. NWAC member colleges will only play in-region, and there will be no NWAC-sanctioned championships.
"Pushing all sports to spring was really all we could do, and it was the safest possible scenario to get games in," said Rick Ross, associate dean for athletics and student life. "That's not a real tall order for us, since we don't have spring sports, but it's already been an adventure trying to arrange travel and prepare to host games under COVID protocols."
Those protocols are evolving almost daily, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues evolve. The NWAC recently updated its plan, allowing limited fans for soccer games and, due to plans for testing, allowing players to compete without masks.
The spring season won’t cost the players a year of eligibility, as the NCAA, and the NWAC, are allowing athletes to compete this spring without it impacting their four-year eligibility. That means fewer roster spots at the four-year level, however, so some of Peninsula's graduating sophomores are opting to return next year.
"To say it's a free year, is kind of a misnomer," Ross said. "There's nothing free about it. Our student athletes have worked very hard, and at great sacrifice, since last fall for the opportunity to compete. It's been hard on them training in a bubble, in masks, and all the cleaning, and filling out attestation forms, and missing out on the classroom experience and college life. But they're ready to go."
The soccer program is coming off a men's championship in 2019, and a women's runner-up finish, and looks to be as strong as ever. Both teams are carrying 29 players and both are hungry to show the fruit of their labor with a brief spring season. The women will play 12 games and the men just nine. Shoreline cancelled all sports for 2020-21 and Skagit Valley suspended their men's program for the year.
"We have nine NWAC championships in the last 11 years and the teams that Jake (Hughes) and Kanyon (Anderson) have this year would likely have brought more hardware home," Ross said. "I can't wait to see them play. It's very high caliber college soccer."
The Pirates open their home schedule on April 12 against Edmonds.
The Pirate basketball teams both traveled to their respective NWAC championship tournaments last March, right when the outbreak started and the state was shut down. Neither team played a single game.
Like the soccer teams, the PC women and men are also very talented again this year and also would have been in the thick of NWAC basketball championship races, but they'll settle for a 20-game North Region season with no official championship to play for.
"Ali’s (Crumb) team has been devastated by injuries, but will still put a quality team on the floor. She'll just be a bit thin on subs," Ross said. "And Donald (Rollman) has a great-looking team with size, speed, talent and depth. They should be fun to watch."
The Pirate basketball team opens at home on April 3 on a night the College will be dedicating its new floor, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony to happen during halftime of the men’s game.
NWAC rules currently don’t allow fans for indoor games, so Peninsula is selling fan cutouts to Pirate boosters. You can purchase yours by going to printedfans.com and looking for the Peninsula Pirate option.
“Coach Rollman set this up. I really hope our fans will get involved and buy a cutout, if not for themselves, maybe for their kids or grandkids,” Ross said. “Our teams are struggling financially and this will not only add to the atmosphere of the games, but it will help out their programs.”
Peninsula College will live-stream all home games at NWACsportsnetwork.com, as will many of the colleges in the North Region.
“We just hope we get to play,” Ross said. “It’s been a grind for everyone.”
Peninsula College athletics reported only four cases of COVID-19 over the year, all of those contracted by student athletes who were home with their families.
“We had no outbreaks here, which is remarkable since most of them live at Collegiate Housing International, just off campus,” Ross said. “It’s a testament to their dedication to our protocols and for staying in their Pirate bubble. It’s also a testament for the hard work of our COVID liaison Marty Martinez and the leadership of Dr. Robins here on campus and Dr. Berry in our county.”
The pandemic impact elsewhere in the region was a different story. In addition to Shoreline and the Skagit Valley men not playing in soccer, the Olympic men and the Edmonds women opted out for basketball.
Elsewhere in the NWAC, South Puget Sound and Green River opted out of basketball in the West, Portland and Clark won’t be playing basketball or soccer in the South, and Walla Walla is out for soccer and Treasure Valley for basketball in the East.