WYALUSING GRAD TREVOR WOODRUFF SAW HIS BUCKNELL WOMEN'S TEAM THROUGH THE PANDEMIC
(2022-08-04)BY CHRIS MANNINGNorthern Tier Sports Report
Back in 2019 Wyalusing graduate Trevor Woodruff took the opportunity of a lifetime when he became the Bucknell women’s head basketball coach. It turns out these last three years would be the most trying of his coaching career.
Woodruff stepped into a Bucknell program that was in a 4-year streak of 20 win seasons, and that continued during his first year at the helm. They won the regular season title by four games that year - “the largest margin in the history of the league,” said Woodruff - and looked prime to win the Patriot League Tournament title.
They won the first round game against Army by 26 points, and were set to host the title game when the Covid-19 Pandemic hit.
“We went from a shoot around before the game to, a couple of hours later, having a team dinner to say good-bye to leave campus before the next morning,” explained Woodruff. “The heartbreak of being cancelled to now, everybody going their separate directions. It was a different, strange, unique situation.”
It also kept them from winning a Patriot League Tournament title, and playing in the NCAA Tournament.
“We believed we were the best team,” said Woodruff. “Potentially, a team that could win NCAA Tournament games to not have the chance to do that.”
He felt his players handled it about as well as they could.
“It’s hard to compare it to anything else we’ve ever dealt with because this was the first time,” Woodruff said. “Looking back, we have more complete information now, things could have been done differently as a school and program, but, at the time we didn’t have that information. They were forced to deal with it, and showed a lot of maturity with how they handled it.”
Things got even more difficult from there as his next season would be the toughest of his career.
The good news was Bucknell would have a season, unlike the Ivy League schools, but it was just a conference season, and there would be a lot of Covid-19 protocols that went with it.
“Trying to balance student safety and do what they love, it was very challenging, and required unbelievable sacrifice by the players,” Woodruff explained. “Almost daily testing, they couldn’t be together outside of practice, and 40-plus days in quarantine.”
It was an ominous start as their first game was cancelled the day before due to a positive test on their opponent’s team, but then the school found them a different opponent for them to play 8:30 p.m. the night before. Despite all the cancellations and stops and starts they still went undefeated during the regular season, finishing conference play 8-0 and earning the top seed in the Patriot League Tournament.
However, they were forced into quarantine for over a month, and weren’t able to properly prepare for the tournament. They won the first game, but lost in the semifinals.
“We were probably the best team in the Patriot League and didn’t have an opportunity to see it through,” Woodruff said.
All throughout this his players and coaches were looking to him for leadership, and Woodruff’s mantra was to just be as transparent as possible.
“I start with the perspective that these kids are really, really smart,” he said. “I try to give them perspective. That was my job. Nobody knew all the answers, so we couldn’t give them answers, but we could give them perspective on why these decisions were being made.”
The present wasn’t easy, but building for the future was even more difficult.
“Recruiting was basically turned upside down,” remarked Woodruff. “Everything was done virtually, online, using video - mostly live video, but also back to the old days of watching a lot of taped games.”
The hardest part, though, was not being able to bring the kids for an on campus visit.
“That is how you mostly get to know them,” said Woodruff. “The interaction outside of basketball, that tells you if they’re the type of person you want.”
He said without that interaction it was “just a guessing game.”
However, they were fortunate that the three kids from that class had visited prior to the Covid-19 shutdown.
That shadow, though, did eventually pass, and this year things were nearly back to normal. Bucknell posted another 20 win season - they went 24-10 - and lost in the Patriot League Tournament title game to American.
“A remarkable season when most thought we would be rebuilding,” Woodruff said.
They were also able to go to the Women’s NIT, and won their first round game over Fordham 73-64.
“It was great to have some energy back,” Woodruff said. “To not be walking on egg shells, and if somebody sneezes to not be afraid the season will be shutdown.”
One thing he liked was having a non-conference schedule again.
“That’s really where you can use different line-ups,” said Woodruff, noting that’s when his younger players get experience.
Going forward Woodruff said they have a good core returning.
“We have a lot of youthful talent that we’re going to need to grow up,” he said. “A good group of freshmen, we need them to get ready as soon as possible. It’s been a little bit of a changing of the guard in terms of the roster - at this point three of the four classes are players we recruited.”
Now that were on the backside of the Covid-19 Pandemic Woodruff hopes they focus on what he came here to do - cement the culture of the program and win titles.
“Now it’s just a matter of focusing on the thing we have control over now that Covid is something we’re prepared to live with as a country,” he said.
However, Woodruff does believe that there is much they learned about their experience during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
“We’ve proven that we can overcome challenges, difficulties, set backs,” he said. “It was a great learning opportunity, if you were willing to take advantage of it, and that’s what we’ve tried to use it as. No question, everybody is happy to be on the other side of it, but during the Pandemic people all over the place learned a lot about themselves.”
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