Home Education and Careers COVID-19 break brought St. Elizabeth girls basketball team closer together, players say

COVID-19 break brought St. Elizabeth girls basketball team closer together, players say

From left, Naia Pulliam, Rory Ciszkowski and Olivia Lynch celebrate St. Elizabeths girls basketball state championship on March 12 at Dover High School. Dialog photo/Mike Lang

DOVER – St. Elizabeth’s girls basketball team earned its first win over Sanford on Jan. 21, a 62-57 decision that boosted their record to 4-0. Little did they know as they walked off the court in Hockessin that it would be their last time together for some two weeks and their final game for three.

The returned to practice a few weeks later and competition shortly after that. A busy February continued into March, and the Vikings kept winning. In the state tournament, the top seed dispatched Hodgson, Caesar Rodney, Mount Pleasant and Caravel to reach the final. That set up a rematch with Sanford on March 12 at Dover High School for the title. The Warriors led by six in the fourth, but the Vikings prevailed, 47-45, locking up the school’s first girls basketball state championship since 2013.

The Vikings found out soon after that January game at Sanford they would be shut down because of a positive test for COVID-19. But instead of losing their momentum while they were apart, the players found a way to become closer. They met each night via Zoom for a virtual workout session, and the players said it made a difference in their season.

“We were always on the phone every day, just hanging out together, laughing and just having fun,” sophomore guard Farrah White said. “We just remained focused. Our main goal was always the same, and that was to win a championship.”

Those first four games included wins at Ursuline and Sanford, and coach Dan Cooney was worried that the hiatus might hurt the team. That ended up not being the case.

“Believe it or not, I think in a way, that kind of helped us. Those kids, even though they couldn’t be around each other, they bonded through those Zoom workouts every night,” he said, making sure to give credit to his assistant coaches, Paige Davis and Lexi Murphy, with getting the workouts started after the players suggested them. Once they got going, the coaches did not need to keep on the players.

“That’s how dedicated we were to this season. We were so dedicated and so focused on winning that championship, that even during those two weeks, we were doing those little things, those unseen things. And we did it on our own,” senior guard Olivia Lynch said.

The Vikings returned to the court on Feb. 11 at Caravel and played their closest game of the season, a one-point overtime win. They kept winning, including overcoming a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit against Ursuline on Feb. 22, and they were not challenged in the state tournament until the final at Dover.

As was the case against Ursuline, the veteran Vikings were able to take over in the closing minutes, earning the Vikings their first state championship since 2013.

“We knew that we were going to get through it, and we’re state champions,” senior Naia Pulliam said.

Cooney was struck by how the girls dealt with all the oddities of this season: few or no fans, no locker rooms most nights, masks. They never complained.

“What those kids had to endure this year, with having to wear a mask while they’re competing, I don’t know how they did it. Their response every time was, ‘This is what we have to do to play, so this is what we’re doing.’

“It was a different year. It is what it is, and it’s still a state championship.”