“It’s been an emotional roller coaster,” Kayce Mock said.
“It’s weird, sad, frustrating,” Taylor Stricklin added.
The two former Sutherlin High School basketball standouts are waiting for their senior seasons to start at their respective colleges — thanks to the coronavirus pandemic that has severely impacted the sports world since last March.
Mock, a 6-foot forward, plays at Bushnell (formerly Northwest Christian) University in Eugene. Stricklin is a 5-11 guard at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande.
Both schools are members of the NAIA’s Cascade Collegiate Conference.
Mock and Stricklin, who each earned Class 4A Player of the Year honors at Sutherlin (Mock in 2016 and Stricklin in ’17) while leading the Bulldogs to the state championship, are hoping to have some form of a season in 2021. Because of the pandemic, there are no guarantees that will happen.
Games in the CCC were originally scheduled to begin Dec. 4, but have been tentatively moved back to January. Teams will play a league schedule only.
Small college basketball teams in Oregon have been able to practice during the fall, but physical contact is prohibited under the Oregon Health Authority guidelines. Basketball can’t play five-on-five or scrimmage.
The recent two-week freeze imposed by Gov. Kate Brown means no practice for now.
The state’s Division I programs (Oregon, Oregon State, Portland and Portland State) were granted exemptions, though, and are in the early stages of their seasons.
“There’s so much uncertainty ... back and forth, and having little hope then no hope at all,” Mock said. “Basketball has always been a part of my life and it’s an odd year not to have basketball as a release.”
Stricklin said, “I don’t think this is a year anyone imagined having. It’s frustrating not playing. I was looking forward to this year a lot. I was excited to get to know my teammates and building on some momentum I had at the end of last year.”
Mock played two years under Jim Martineau (a Sutherlin graduate) at Clackamas Community College in Oregon City before taking a year off. She returned to the court last year, playing a big role for Bushnell.
She started all 31 games, averaging 9.2 points and leading the team in rebounding (8.2). She also led the Beacons with 63 blocked shots and 54 steals.
Mock grabbed a school record 24 rebounds against Walla Walla.
The Beacons won the Cascade title for the first time with a 17-3 record and came away with their first-ever CCC tournament championship.
They were in Sioux City, Iowa, preparing to play the University of Antelope Valley (California) in the first round of the NAIA Division II national championship tournament. But the tourney was canceled because of the virus.
The Beacons, who were No. 13 in the final NAIA coaches poll, had their winningest season at 26-5 under Chad Meadors.
“I was thinking I’d have another year to do the same thing, so this was a bummer,” Mock said. “You work so hard to get where you want to be and you don’t get the opportunity. You always want to go out on a high note, but at this point I’d be pretty happy to get to play some games.”
Stricklin turned in two outstanding seasons for her father, Dave, at Umpqua Community College before signing with EOU.
The Mountaineers finished 15-5 in conference and 22-10 overall last year under Anji Weissenfluh. Stricklin started 27 games, averaging 7.1 points and 4.3 rebounds and was second on the team with 45 3-pointers.
“My first year (at Eastern) was definitely a learning experience,” Stricklin said. “I was coming into a program I didn’t know very well, and it was an adjustment trying to get to know everybody and the coaches.
“I was trying to find my place on the team where I fit in. Overall it was a good experience.”
So far, Southern Oregon, Evergreen and Walla Walla have opted out of the 2021 season.
Players will not lose a year of eligibility this season due to the pandemic circumstances and can return next year if they wish.
Mock and Stricklin are on schedule to graduate this spring. Mock is a psychology major, while Stricklin is majoring in pre-nursing and community health.
Stricklin says there’s a “98%” chance she’ll play a third year at EOU.
“I’ve been around basketball my whole life and I don’t think anybody wants to go out like this,” she said. “I only have so much time to be a college athlete. I really do want to play.”