Even after the Idaho State women’s basketball team lost to Idaho in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference tournament, the Bengals weren’t entirely sure their season was over.
ISU still had a chance to play in a postseason tournament, likely the WBI or a similar, lower-tier, invitational.
In the end, the decision was made for the Bengals — not by the tournament committees, but by the coronavirus pandemic, which, within the next few days, had completely shut down sports across the country.
“It sucked, because we were hoping to get into a postseason tournament,” ISU guard Montana Oltrogge said. “It was out of our control. Everything kept closing, one after the other, and it felt like there was no time to process when one thing closed, and then another thing would close. So it was back-to-back, and it was just crazy.”
Those developments, along with universities canceling all in-person classes and moving to online learning, set off a flurry of activity to begin the offseason, as athletes tried to process the news, adjust to the new normal, and make plans to return home, all at the same time.
It was a stressful time that hit the ISU women’s team particularly hard. The Bengals had six international players on the roster last season. In the chaos, they were forced to consider their options and, in a very short time frame, make an impactful choice — stay or go?
“My thinking was, if I go back to Spain, I don’t know if I’ll be able to come back,” ISU guard Estefania Ors said. “In Spain, it’s really bad. They don’t let them leave the house ... and if they leave the house, they would get a ticket. They have a closed lockdown in Spain, because in Spain, there have been a lot of deaths.”
Ors, who’s staying with Oltrogge and her family in Arizona, was one of three international Bengals who decided to stay in the United States rather than going home.
Guards Diaba Konate, from France, and Dora Goles, from Croatia, also chose not to risk quarantine and possible travel issues, and stayed in Pocatello.
“They were scared of going home, that they wouldn’t be able to get back,” head coach Seton Sobolewski said. “The quarantine situation where they live is tough. Dora, if she went back, she’d have to quarantine in a really strict situation for 14 days in Croatia, like, in a room, by herself, for 14 days, can’t even be near your family. And then if she came back here after that, there would potentially be another quarantine.”
For the players who did go back home to be with their families, the situation was just as tense.
Callie Bourne made it back to Australia. Irene Vicente and Nuria Barrientos, who have entered the transfer portal but are still listed on ISU’s roster, elected to go back to Spain.
With the coronavirus spreading rapidly and countries scrambling to shut down their borders, travel plans were forced to change quickly, and the players didn’t have time to second-guess their decisions.
“Right when (Bourne) started heading home is when they said OK, everyone come back to Australia,” Sobolewski said. “If you want to come back, you better come back now. Nuria and Irene, who are transferring, but we’re obviously still talking with them and helping them, they were kind of told the same thing by the Spanish embassy. They had plane tickets to leave on like a Friday or Saturday, and the embassy told them, you’d better leave tomorrow, or you’re not going to get back in the country. So they had to scramble and get on a flight the very next day after they heard that.”
With Idaho now in the beginning stages of reopening, players may begin to trickle back to Pocatello in the next month. According to the plan on the state government’s website, the 14-day self-quarantine for people entering the state will be encouraged but no longer mandatory starting on Saturday.
That could entice players who are staying with their families in other states — or Bourne, who’s overseas — to make plans to return.
If cases continue to decline and certain metrics are met, the self-quarantine policy could be completely discontinued starting May 30.
Gyms are also starting to re-open in Idaho, another possible reason to come back.
“I think we’re coming back in June, because in June, coach told us that the stay-home order is up,” Ors said. “You can go to Pocatello and you don’t need to quarantine yourself, so in June we’re coming back, and that way we can use the weight room, get stronger. I can go to (physical therapy) too and see my doctor and make sure everything is right. So, we’re excited to go back, actually.”
- Ors said that rehab on her injured right knee has been progressing steadily while she’s been in Arizona. The senior guard tore her PCL in early December against Arizona State. With social distancing in effect, she’s been doing physical therapy remotely with her doctors in Pocatello, while working out and shooting with Oltrogge.
“It’s not like we’re in Pocatello, but it’s not that bad,” Ors said. “My leg feels so much stronger. Now I can go running. Before, I was walking down the stairs really careful, but now, I just can go, and that feels nice.”
As of Thursday, Ors was still waiting on a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA that would grant her an extra year of eligibility due to the injury. Because she played in just seven games before getting hurt, it’s expected that the waiver will be granted, but that won’t be certain until she hears from the NCAA.