WINCHESTER — Both Umpqua Community College basketball teams were off to good starts, but haven’t played games in nearly a month.

COVID-19 issues across the Northwest Athletic Conference pushed the start of league play back two weeks, so the UCC men and women have put in plenty of practice time in preparation for their openers.

The Riverhawks are scheduled to host Clackamas on Monday, the women set for a 2 p.m. tipoff and the men following at 4.

Umpqua will travel to Eugene Wednesday to face Lane, the women playing at 5:30 p.m. and the men at 7:30.

“We’ve tried to keep the guys fresh (during the layoff) — mentally more than anything,” said UCC men’s coach Daniel Leeworthy, whose club was hit heavily by COVID during the holidays. “We played some soccer on Saturday and had a meditation session today (Tuesday).

“We talk about the dark clouds above us, and that’s why the meditation was good. Focus on the positive and what’s ahead. I think the guys are really excited and will be ready to play Monday.”

The Umpqua men (8-1) are ranked No. 4 in the NWAC coaches poll. Lane (9-1) is No. 5 and Clackamas (7-3) No. 9.

“Lane is our biggest competition,” Leeworthy said. “The South Region is always tough, everyone is pretty good.”

The Umpqua women (8-2) are No. 9 in the NWAC. They’ll have their hands full against No. 3 Clackamas (10-1) and No. 1 Lane (10-0). Linn-Benton (8-2) is No. 5.

“It’s business as usual,” said UCC women’s coach Dave Stricklin, whose all-freshman club isn’t full strength health-wise. “We’ve cut our practices down and have been doing more skill work. I don’t know how much (the layoff) will affect us.

“We’ve had two seasons already — the first five games and the second five — and it feels like we’re back playing our first game of the season. Lane, Clackamas and Lower Columbia all have multiple third-year sophomores and I think that makes a huge difference.”

The UCC men last played on Dec. 17, defeating Everett 80-66 in the Everett Crossover. The Riverhawks are averaging 92.6 points and allowing 66.4 per game.

Umpqua’s lone loss came to No. 10 North Idaho, 85-71 in the Everett Crossover.

“We’ve lost a couple of players (Ean Smith is out with a shoulder injury and Spencer Hathaway left the team), but we still have 13 guys on the roster and I feel we’re still a very deep team,” Leeworthy said. “Defensively we’ve got a lot of potential. We’ve had some pretty good performances, but I think we can be a lot better.”

Freshman forward Nathan Webb is the top scorer (20.0 points) and rebounder (6.0) for the Riverhawks. Freshman guard Talon Valdes (18.6 points, 5.8 assists, 1.5 steals) has been a difference-maker.

Freshmen Jake Sampson (15.3 points), Marcus Sherwood (9.4 points, 5.3 rebounds) and Robbie Moore (8.3 points) are big contributors.

The UCC women last played on Dec. 18, routing Pierce 79-45 in the Umpqua Crossover. The Riverhawks’ two losses came to Clackamas, 92-62, and Shoreline, 97-60.

The Riverhawks dealt with some injuries to start the season, but got healthy and went 5-0 with their new lineup before the layoff.

Umpqua averages 75.4 points and allows 66.7 points a game.

“Our scoring defense needs to come down. Our defense has to get better,” Stricklin said. “We have to be able to push the ball and fast break better without turning the ball over.”

Shielteal Watah is the leading scorer for the Riverhawks, averaging 17.8 points. She’s followed by Delfina Misiuna (14.8), Victoria Hollingshead (11.7), Jalen Robles (8.6) and Eliza Swallow (7.1).

Since Hollingshead (11.5 rebounds) and Leiani Tonga (5.6 rebounds) returned from injuries, Umpqua is much better on both ends of the floor. Robles (4.6 assists), a Roseburg High School graduate, is the top distributor.

“(Tonga) is always around the ball,” Stricklin said. “She does a lot of little things that won’t get noticed, but you need that type of player.”

Fans attending Monday’s games will be required to wear face coverings inside the gym.

Tom Eggers can be reached at teggers@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4220.

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Sports Editor

Tom Eggers is the sports editor for The News-Review. He can be reached at teggers@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4220.

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