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How Avery Evans Navigated College Basketball During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Avery Evans, 19, entered her freshman year with the Fresno City College Rams Women’s Basketball team unaware of how the season would be held.

Evans was a two-sport athlete and a varsity letter winner for the Clovis High School Cougars’ basketball and volleyball teams. As Clovis’ starting shooting guard/shooting forward, she averaged 14 points, 1.6 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game

She has participated in travel basketball, unified basketball and various recreational clubs. Off the court, Evans was a California Scholarship Federation Life Member and an Advanced Studied Scholar of Distinction.

When COVID-19 was declared a nationwide emergency in March 2020, Evans and the Cougars were competing in the 2020 CIF State Girls Basketball Championships – Division II. They ultimately lost in the state semifinal game against Oakland Technical High School, ending Evans’ high school basketball career. However, the championship game was canceled, officially signaling the abrupt conclusion of the 2020 high school basketball season.

Evans had to look to the future and began weighing her options for college. She decided to commit to Fresno City College to continue her basketball career with a major in nursing, but it was a difficult process for her.

“Before I decided to play at Fresno City, the recruiting process was very stressful,” Evans said. “Since no visits were happening, I could not get a true feel for any possible opportunities elsewhere. However, the process of committing at Fresno City was much easier. I have known the coach since prior to my senior season and was comfortable with the campus and the other players, so I was excited to be a part of that team.”

While making her decision, Evans set targets for herself as well as certain expectations she hoped to reach going into her first college season.

“My goal going into my first college season was to win a championship,” Evans said. “Also, many people come to a JUCO (junior college) to have an opportunity to be recruited to a four-year, so that was definitely one of my major motivators [heading into the season].”

Many college athletes struggled with different methods of practicing and playing during the pandemic. Compared to previous seasons, a number of rules and restrictions were added in regards to team practice and preparation for the upcoming season. It has been difficult to build chemistry as well. Evans’ experience was no different.

“When actual practices in the gym began, we were typically in pairs,” Evans said. “We each would have our own ball and use that ball the whole time. Also, we had a few hand-washing breaks sporadically throughout the practice, where each group at each basket would go and wash their hands. After practice, we would put on our masks, and leave immediately, all while following the proper social distancing guidelines.”

However, Evans’ season halted much faster than she expected. As the COVID-19 rates got worse, colleges all around the country started canceling various sports seasons to prevent further infections. 

“Our season was officially announced as canceled shortly after winter break,” Evans said. “After hearing the news from our coach, we had to find ways to stay fit on our own since we were not allowed to practice outdoors as well.” 

Staying in shape, even when the season is canceled, is a priority for many athletes. They polish their ability to ensure that their return on the court — once sports safely returns to in-person games — is better than ever. However, as a student athlete, it can be difficult to find the incentive to perform well academically and athletically. With pressure from both spectrums, Evans elaborated on how she stays focused.

“If I am being honest, it is very hard to find motivation to do anything during these times, and it is definitely frustrating to see others not following the proper guidelines with this pandemic,” Evans said. “ My teammates know how I am feeling since we are all essentially in the same boat. It is very hard, but for staying positive with academics, I know that is essentially the only thing I can control as of right now, so I try my hardest to be successful in all of my classes.”

Evans understands the importance of education due in part to her family’s expertise in teaching; although, one of her family’s core values she holds close to her heart is to actively do what you love.

A positive aspect of playing a sport in college is that you receive the opportunity to meet and bond with your teammates. A team that has bonded is much stronger than a team unable to connect. This process was relatively easy for Evans and her new team, given their history.

“This team is special because we have all pretty much played against one another, which makes it much more of a fun experience in my opinion,” Evans said. “I have a couple of teammates on my team now that I played with in high school, so that makes it even more fun. I don’t even feel like a ‘freshman’ on this team since everyone is so accepting of any differences.”

Evans awaits the day her season resumes so that she can experience the collegiate student-athlete life she has prepared for. Once the pandemic subsides, she is eager to return to playing the sport she loves. But most importantly, Evans is ready to hit the open road.

“I think I am the most excited to be able to travel again,” Evans said. “I have been in my house essentially all pandemic-long, so it would definitely be nice to go somewhere, possibly even with my team.”

With high hopes for what is to come, Evans looks forward to her future in collegiate basketball and prepares to make her mark in her upcoming sophomore year.

Harleen Thandi is a Staff Writer. She can be reached at hthandi@uci.edu.