Light at end of tunnel for area winter sports teams
Many area scholastic sports teams resumed or began winter sports practices Monday, and a few teams will begin competitions as early as Friday.
The Tyrone boys basketball team, which finished as the District 6 Class 4A runner-up last season and returns its top six players, will travel to Clearfield Friday for a 7:30 p.m. regular season varsity game. The Lady Eagles open the next day at home against Clearfield at 3:30 p.m.
“In all my years of being a coach at Tyrone, this is by far the worst offseason I have ever had because of all the COVID-19 issues we’ve had to deal with,” Tyrone boys coach George Gripp said. “We haven’t been able to get in the gym. It screwed up our summer league, and we couldn’t go to team camp, but we are an experienced, seasoned group. We hope that carries us a little bit. These guys know what is expected and what style we’ll be playing, so for us it’s just a matter of how rusty are we going to be when we come back?”
Tyrone is able to start this weekend due to already having 11 practices in when Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf shut down high school athletics in December. The PIAA requires just 10 preseason practices or four practices following a three-week shutdown, which is why Friday is the first day teams can play.
The Mirror’s annual preseason “Winter Heat” usually is printed prior to the first varsity contests of the winter scholastic season, but due to the majority of teams starting closer to the end of this month, it is not scheduled to be published until Wednesday, Jan. 13 in order to allow teams time to send in information, accurate schedules and returning letterwinner photos.
The Tyrone boys will host another area team returning to action on Monday when the Golden Eagles take on Central at 7:30 p.m. At that same time, the Lady Eagles will be tipping off at Punxsutawney.
Tuesday, the Tyrone girls will host Central at 7:30 p.m., and the Tyrone wrestling team will open the season at Clearfield at 7 p.m.
That night also will see the Altoona girls basketball team return to action when the Lady Lions host Central Dauphin East at 6:30 p.m.
“I’m glad the kids are getting an opportunity to at least give this a shot,” Altoona girls coach Chris Fleegle said. “I know a lot of my incoming seniors have worked extremely hard over the summer and into the fall. Just to see them get on the floor is exciting for us as a coaching staff.”
Some non-PIAA basketball will also be played including the Blair County Christian boys taking on Huntingdon Christian tonight before the boys and girls play a doubleheader against Grace Prep this weekend and another one against Juniata Mennonite on Tuesday.
With the season finally started, the postseason picture is also becoming clearer.
The District 6 basketball tournaments will begin on March 1 and must be completed by March 13. Tournaments in which a regional competition must take place, such as Class 6A, will begin regional competition the week of March 15.
The last play date for basketball games in the regular season to count toward District 6 playoff seedings will be Friday, Feb. 26.
“This is all pretty much finalized,” District 6 chairman Bill Marshall said. “But our other issues are if there are COVID-related issues. I’m aware of some schools that have already had to shut down some athletics due to COVID tests.”
While only champions will advance to the state playoffs, teams may continue to compete following the district tournament until the state playoffs conclude the weekend of March 26-27.
“We have pushed back our playoffs two weeks,” Marshall said. “Any school that doesn’t qualify for the playoffs can continue to play regular season games through March.”
While it will be tougher to get into the state tournament this season, winning it all will require just three wins in the state bracket as opposed to the five usually required.
Not counting regional championships that will have to be decided in the boys and girls Class 5A and 6A field, District 6 champions will begin the state playoffs in the quarterfinal round on March 19 or 20 and be two wins away from competing for a state title.
In Class 1A, the District 6 champion in both the boys and girls bracket will open with the District 9 champion while Class 2A, 3A and 4A will start by playing the District 10 champion. If the District 6 champion survives regional competition and gets into the quarterfinals in Class 5A boys or girls competition, it will play the District 3 champion, and the 6A boys and girls would play the WPIAL champion in the quarterfinals.
Many wrestlers in the area will have to reach peak form quickly, especially those going to schools not starting winter sports competitions until February.
The Class 2A individual sectionals will take place on Feb. 16 with the top two advancing to districts. At both sectionals and districts, they will wrestle for a true second place.
The Class 3A individual wrestlers will not have a sectional tournament and will begin the postseason with the District 6 championships on Feb. 20, the same day Class 2A will have its District 6 championships.
Class 2A and 3A will hold regionals on Feb. 27, and both will have super regionals on March 6.
The Class 2A PIAA semifinals and finals will take place on March 12 with an eight-man bracket, and the Class 3A PIAA semifinals and finals will be wrestled March 13 in an eight-man bracket.
The District 6 team wrestling tournament will take place after the individual tournament this season as a priority has been placed on completing the individual competition by the PIAA. The team tournament has yet to be scheduled.
How to watch
The Altoona Area School District will be showing winter scholastic sporting events on YouTube on its Altoona Athletics channel. The channel surpassed 1,000 subscribers on Wednesday, which allows the content to be aired. It is free to subscribe to the channel.
Schools can allow only 10 percent the capacity of their gyms and pools under the current state mandate, and it is up to individual school districts to decide the specifics on who gets to attend.
Tyrone, which also airs some of its sports events on its TyroneEagleEye channel, will allow two spectators for each player at its home basketball and wrestling contests. Spectators will have temperature checks and sit in the bleachers opposite of the competitors while wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.
No spectators will currently be permitted for Tyrone home swim meets.
The Golden Eagles’ boys basketball opener on Friday at Clearfield can be viewed online at https://bit.ly/384cW27.