Siena’s 6: A depleted women’s team chooses to play on

Before the Siena bus departs, Saints coach Ali Jaques stands near her seat in the front and counts to ensure that everyone has boarded.

That task won’t take long Tuesday.

Siena — a team that has spent nearly half this season in quarantine — will have only six players aboard when the bus rolls away from the Saints’ campus in Loudonville, New York, for the trip to Monmouth on Tuesday. The total travel party is 10: the players, two coaches, an athletic trainer and a bus driver.

That’s it.

“The novelty of it, I think it’s a thing you have to accept,” Jaques said. “We’re in this weird situation and we have to accept what it is and then understand how we can be successful — and find opportunity in that situation.”

This much is certain: It is a weird situation.

Siena has 14 players on the roster; of the eight who won’t be on the trip to Monmouth, most are in quarantine for virus-related reasons — which can include positive tests or contact tracing suggesting they may have been exposed to COVID-19. The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference has a requirement that teams must play if they have eight available players; Siena elected to play with fewer.

The Saints have been on two road trips already this season. Both times, they arrived at their destination and then found out the games would be canceled because of virus issues. If they play Monmouth on Wednesday night as scheduled in West Long Branch, New Jersey, it will be the Saints’ first road game of the season.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” Jaques said.

Jaques was part of a team that won an NCAA Division III championship at New York University, and coaches with the same tough-as-nails style that benefited her as a player. Siena has practiced 50 times this season, spent 40 days in quarantine — and played four games. The Saints are 2-2, after losing twice in December and winning games on Jan. 9 and 10.

They haven’t played since. But ending the season early was not an option.

“We don’t quit. We don’t,” Jaques said. “And I think we’re past the point of thinking we can’t be successful with only a few players. We don’t have the mindset that giving up is OK. We don’t say ‘why me,’ we say ‘try me,’ and that’s the culture that we have in our locker room.”

There’s also a history of short-handed success for Jaques at Siena.

In 2016, the Saints won a MAAC tournament game over Rider with only four players on the court at the end. In 2014-15, Jaques’ team played its final 30 games with only seven players — Siena dubbed them “The Magnificent Seven.” Siena won 22 games that season, and some of those players hopped a Zoom call with the current six players this week to let them know how to handle what awaits.

Jaques will arrive at Monmouth for Wednesday’s game in warmups, because she knows she’ll be needed as a pregame rebounder as her players loosen up. A few minutes before game time, she’ll change from her sweats into her sideline dressy attire.

There’s a chance Siena could get some players back soon. But for now, six must be enough.

“This team has been so careful about everything they do,” Jaques said. “And if we have the chance to play, we’re going to play. All they want to do is play a game. That’s it. So, I’m not worried about anything else. I’m going to get these six kids as focused and ready as we can possibly be.”

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More AP women’s basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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