Carroll College women's basketball

Carroll College women's basketball coach Rachelle Sayers talks with her team during a timeout against Rocky Mountain at the PE Center on Feb. 11. The Saints will be back at home Friday night against Dickinson State. 

HELENA — Carroll College women’s basketball coach Rachelle Sayers knows this spring will be a challenge.

For some time, Sayers has been looking to replace a post because All-American forward Hannah Dean concluded her four years of eligibility after the 2019 NAIA National Tournament.

With seniors Taylor Salonen and Emerald Toth now set to graduate this spring, the need for a post is even more important.

“It’s a lot more than what you can do on the basketball court for us,” Sayers said. “We are going to take our time, but we hope to have someone signed over the next few weeks.”

But Sayers and her coaching staff are not only fighting with other programs to find the right players, but also the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected sports all over the country.

The pandemic has already canceled both the NAIA and NCAA winter championships and spring seasons. Now, it could affect coaches signing players for future seasons.

The NCAA announced there will be a dead period until least April 15, stating that college coaches may not have face-to-face contact with college-bound student-athletes or their parents, and may not watch student-athletes compete or visit their high schools. Coaches may write and telephone the student-athletes or their parents during this time.

While the NAIA hasn’t put any limitations on its recruiting rules, Sayers said she knows it’s incredibly hard because of the inability to travel and staying confined to home.

“It’s slowing everything down right now,” Sayers said. “Everything is at a standstill.”

Right next door to Sayers’ office, Carroll men’s basketball coach Kurt Paulson sits at his desk and gets on the phone with recruits.

It’s the only way he can talk to prospects he has kept his eye on.

“There are no events going on,” Paulson said. “Everything has been shut down.”

Paulson and other Frontier Conference men’s basketball coaches attended the first two days of the AA State Boys Basketball Tournament in Bozeman a few weeks ago but it was eventually shut down because of COVID-19 cases starting to be discovered in Montana.

“It’s just kind of a wait-and-see game right now (as to) when you can travel and get kids to campus,” Paulson said.

The recruiting game has changed immensely over the last few decades because of improvements in technology. Coaches now can look at a student-athlete’s highlights on such websites as Hudl, which also aids with travel.

The internet also gives students the ability to research prospective schools to see if they would be a good fit, academically and as an athlete.

“The biggest thing is that you have to get to know them a little more off the court,” Sayers said. “You need to take a hands-on approach, rather than just getting them here to play with your players.

Online streaming video conferences calls on platforms such as Skype and Zoom enable coaches to keep in touch with college-bound athletes.

Sayers said she hasn’t gotten her players involved yet, but could set up face times so future prospects could get to know the team, ask questions and see if any chemistry is there.

While the basketball coaches are trying to find new players, Carroll softball coach Aaron Jackson has his recruiting class set despite the NAIA canceling the 2020 season.

He will look to improve on a short 8-11 campaign, but with the NAIA announcing that spring athletes can return for one more season, will he have enough roster spots for next season?

“Our focus is to keep in contact with our commits and help them in any way we can,” Jackson said. “It’ll be an interesting dynamic to see how many seniors return, and then plan accordingly.”

Carroll featured seven seniors on its roster including all-conference players Allison Williams, Brook Yarnall and Anna ApRoberts.

Jackson said it was way too early to know which seniors are returning next season.

The pandemic has not only canceled all NAIA spring sports, but also the majority of high school spring sports for the remainder of the year.

With no games to coach from the dugout, Jackson said he makes himself available to walk them through anything they need before they pack their bags to head to Helena.

“Hopefully, this runs it course so it lets them play some summer ball,” Jackson said of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Who knows? We might have a giant roster, but it’s something we have to adapt to.”

NAIA softball teams can hand out 10 full scholarships, and said recruiting classes might get smaller because the needs of a softball team are not as great.

No matter what happens with college sports during the pandemic, everyone, from Carroll’s basketball coaches to its softball coaches, are finding ways to look forward to upcoming seasons.

The NCAA and NAIA seasons this past spring have yet to be affected because of COVID-19.

But until there is a clear understanding of what will be happening, the coaches might have to get creative as they recruit future players.

Ryan Kuhn covers Carroll College athletics and high school sports for the Independent Record and Follow him on Twitter at @rskuhn

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