Back to full strength after a schedule interruption

(Pavillion, WY) – The Wind River Cougars had a two-week block of their regular season basketball schedule sidelined by a COVID 19 quarantine. The quarantine came after a couple of wrestlers tested positive, followed by girls on the basketball team and then the boys’ basketball team.

The boys and coaches didn’t like the interruption in their schedule, but it proved to be a blessing in disguise.

The Cougars are currently ranked fourth in Class 2-A boys basketball statewide.

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Three weeks ago after the Big Horn Basin Tournament played in Worland and Thermopolis, they were a team full of battered and bruised players.

The game against a very physical Greybull team left them with a variety of injuries.

The Cougars aren’t huge this season, but they’re very quick and swarm opponents with a swirling defense that never tires behind a deep interchangeable bench.

Point guard Chaumbrey Romero caught an errant Greybull elbow and suffered a broken nose. He wore a face shield in practice and against St. Stephen’s, Wright, and Glenrock last week. It came off Tuesday night in a makeup game, a 20 point win by Wind River over Big Piney in Pavillion.

Guard Hunter Walker tore a bicep and had limited playing time, before being sidelined completely.

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Guard Braydon Leonhardt dislocated his shoulder, an injury he suffered twice during football season, and sat for a while as well.

Guard, (you notice there are a lot of guards on the Wind River team this year?) Jaden Miller suffered a dislocated elbow during football season, and reinjured it after a hard collision in the Greybull game sent him to the floor, striking that injured elbow on the hardwood.

A final guard, Jaycee Herbert also suffered a broken nose against Greybull.

This freakish series of injuries could have afflicted the Cougars the remainder of the season, but with the unexpected two-week break from the hardwood, the players had a chance to heal.

“I think it was one of the things that made us come together,” Walker said, “We were able to gather ourselves and came out strong.”

Strong they were in their initial return to the court in a re-scheduled game against St. Stephen’s on February 1.

St. Stephen’s is a good team, with arguably the best player in Class 2-A in 6-5 senior Jordan Bararzza, but Barazza’s considerable talent didn’t matter as the Cougars ran roughshod over the Eagles, taking a 40-point lead and winning with a running clock.

“Rodriguez rocked my world,” Miller said of Greybull senior Carlos Rodriguez, “I landed hard, and it hurt my elbow.”

Perhaps the biggest injury was the shot to Romero’s nose by a flying Buff’s elbow.

“It was very much needed for all of us to get healed up,” Romero said of the two-week break, “We were back to full strength after it.”

The break offered a couple of things that college and professional football teams are very aware of. Athletes suffer injuries, but their physical condition, which is substantially better than that of an average citizen responds quickly to rest.

The Wind River boys didn’t rest, they still attended practice, but they also received physical therapy and medical attention during the two-week break.

“It was very mental,” Leonhardt said. “When there is something that takes a little rest, and you can get it, it helps you mentally. It gave me time to strengthen my shoulder.”

Leonhardt also returned to the floor wearing a shoulder brace, since he’s suffered three dislocations this athletic season since football.

“I hate the brace, but if it keeps me in the game, I’ll wear it,” Leonhardt said.

Wind River head coach Justin Walker saw the silver lining in the COVID cloud when it initially sidelined his team.

“Anytime you have injuries, it helps to have a bye week,” Walker said. “That’ the nice part, it wasn’t like the team was just coming together. These guys played together for a long time.”

That’s the benefit of the break in a nutshell. The Wind River boys started the season just like every other team on the opening day of practice.

No matter how well a team is physically prepared, injuries occur. In a small school, with more limited depth than a larger school, that can mean the difference between an average season, and a great one.

Wind River had the time to develop their play as a team, but the break let them revert back to their early season injury free condition, and the combination was magic for the Cougars.

Similar magic came for the Riverton Wolverines in a planned break in their schedule.

Many coaches are annoyed by other sports taking the gym away for a weekend, Riverton head coach Beau Sheets isn’t one of them.

After his Wolverines played Fremont County rival Lander on a Tuesday night. The Riverton boys and girls teams didn’t play until 10 days later thanks to the Ron Thon Memorial wrestling tournament, the best in Wyoming, taking Wolverine gym.

The boys faced very tall, physical teams in the Jackson Broncs and Star Valley Braves the following weekend.

Riverton swept both games, not in runaway fashion, but in an “in your face” style of gritty defense, the kind of play that can quickly wear a team out.

Riverton was rested and handled the challenge of two low-scoring games dominated by physical play in the paint. Rest will do that.

In the game against Big Piney, the Cougars wore down the Punchers physically with their energetic style of play. It takes a healthy team in great shape to do that.

The pros know. On Sunday when the Rams and Bengals meet for all the NFL marbles, both teams will have benefited from two weeks of rest and therapy and will bring their “A” game to the field.

It’s what players want to do, it’s what coaches want to work with, and it’s what fans want to see, the two best at the top of their game physically, playing for a championship, and they’ll be rested when they deliver it.

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