Blazer Beat: A Temporary Hold For Men’s Hoops, Trailblazer Women Notch First Win

By Nathan Tucker

As was inevitable in this unusual season, schedules have been altered, practices and games have been postponed and the Trailblazers have had to adjust. In the same week where the women’s basketball team secured the first Trailblazer win in any sport in a calendar year, the men’s team announced a temporary “cancelling” of all team activities and games “for the immediate future”.

In an email statement released Feb. 25, L&C men’s basketball Coach and Athletic director Doug Stotler said, “The Lewis & Clark CC men’s basketball team members and coaches have been placed into precautionary but mandatory COVID QUARANTINE as of 4:00pm, 2/25/2021. One of our players has illness symptoms that are consistent with positive COVID cases. We plan to get this player tested this weekend but until we know for certain his health status we want to be extremely cautious.”

Luckily for the Trailblazers, that quarantine was cleared, and they played but unfortunately lost to Kaskaskia on Mar. 3, less than a week after the notice of a quarantine. With the player in question testing negative, the team-wide quarantine was lifted, and team activities have resumed in full. 

The days of quarantine include days of practice gone and a clash against a top team in NJCAA basketball in John A. Logan cancelled. More importantly, it’s less time on the court working on the Trailblazers issues that have plagued them in what’s been a difficult season thus far.

Yet to win a game yet this season, the 0-7 Trailblazers have struggled to play the game coaches Doug Stotler and Kavon Lacey want out of their guys. The Trailblazers are a smaller team and often outmatched for size, but they can neutralize that difference by creating havoc on defense and getting transition baskets. 

Easier said than done, of course. L&C plays in one of the toughest regions in NJCAA Division I basketball, with multiple Top 25 ranked teams in John A. Logan, Olney Central and Vincennes University. Those not ranked aren’t necessarily chopped liver, either.

A largely freshman group is finding out just how tough this level of basketball can be. While the season certainly isn’t over just yet for our Trailblazers, one can be optimistic about a group with more experience coming back next season, in potentially more “normal” circumstances, battle-hardened by a tough freshman season on and off the court.

“Finally Nate, finally,” L&C Women’s basketball coach Jaron Young said to me on his way back to the locker room following their Feb. 25 contest against Spoon River. The elation came from the Trailblazer women securing the first win for any Trailblazer sport since their return to action from the COVID-19 layoff. 

As a reporter of sports for this publication, and an impromptu cameraman for this spring’s Trailblazer sports, I’m one of the lucky few who’s actually in attendance for games at Riverbend Arena at the moment. I could feel the relief in the air as the time expired, it was a win the team needed.

It was a win I, as someone who’s been watching Trailblazer sports at the end of a quite expensive camera, needed. I try to stay impartial here, for journalism’s sake I suppose, but wins are more fun to be at and definitely more fun to write about.

As far as the game itself, and really moreover L&C women’s hoops for the past two seasons, the conversation begins and ends with Mary Penland-Holmes, responsible for more than a third of the 65 Trailblazer points on the evening. Penland-Holmes shot 8-14 from the floor including a white-hot 5-6 from beyond the arc en route to a total of 26 points.

Penland-Holmes is one of the most dynamic shooters in NJCAA Division II, ranked in the top 50 in field goal percentage, three point percentage and three pointers made, in far less games than many others at the same level. 

Already over halfway into the season, coach Jaron Young and the Trailblazers are looking to build on this bit of momentum and string together some results for the home stretch. L&C’s women currently sit at 1-8, but are playing consistently better basketball as the season continues.

Bron Wilkerson’s volleyball team is still searching for their first win, following a very tight contest with Lincoln Trail nearly two weeks ago where they came within striking distance of their first victory. 

The Trailblazers traded sets with Lincoln Trail, with sharp play around the net throughout the match, but fell just short in the final set, 15-11. Since that 3-2 loss that came down to four points in the final set, the volleyball Trailblazers have been swept 3-0 twice, in games that were unfortunately never that close. 

In a short spring season, L&C only takes to the court five more times. Standing at 0-8, Bron Wilkerson, Skylar Kuntzman and company will have opportunities coming up to capture that elusive first victory. 

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