The Apalachee varsity boys’ basketball team is on pause after a player tested positive for COVID-19 last week and the rest of the Wildcats and their coaching staff went into a precautionary quarantine. The layoff has caused the team to postpone two region games and cancel a pair of other contests, including a showdown at crosstown rival Winder-Barrow that had been scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 12.

Apalachee coach Ty Rowland said Monday, Dec. 7, that one of his players came down with symptoms Wednesday night, Dec. 2, and tested positive Thursday, Dec. 3. Under the Barrow County School System’s contact-tracing approach of quarantining direct contacts from 48 hours leading up to symptoms, that took the window of time back to the Wildcats’ Dec. 1 game against Social Circle, which the player participated in. That placed the entire team into a 10-day quarantine per new CDC guidance (down from 14 days), which the district is following.

Rowland said Monday one other player has since developed symptoms and was being tested, but his status would not affect the clock since the symptoms came about while the team was already in quarantine.

The Wildcats are eligible to resume in-person activities Sunday, Dec. 13, players can return to class Monday, Dec. 14, and the team will play their next game Tuesday, Dec. 15, when they host Johnson, Gainesville in their GHSA Region 8-AAAAA opener. In the meantime, Apalachee has rescheduled region games against Eastside and Clarke Central that were originally scheduled for this week — the Eastside game will now be played Saturday, Dec. 19, in Covington, and the Wildcats will host the Gladiators on Monday, Dec. 21. The teams were still working Monday to finalize times, Rowland said.

The Wildcats, however, had to cancel their Saturday, Dec. 5 game against North Springs, the Winder-Barrow game and their participation in the Lambert Holiday Classic set for Dec. 19. It will be the first time in several years, if ever, that the Wildcats have not faced off with Winder-Barrow in a season, but Rowland said with the schools no longer being in the same region he and Bulldoggs coach Travis McDaniel agreed they needed to keep their open dates available for any potential future region postponements. Apalachee’s girls’ team was not affected by the boys’ team’s situation and was still scheduled to play its slate of games this week, including a 3 p.m. Saturday tilt at Winder-Barrow.

“Obviously the kids are sad because they wanted to play Winder, and (the layoff) is frustrating because I feel like we had finally just gotten it rolling,” said Rowland, whose team will now play five games in a seven-day stretch from Dec. 15-21, including four region matchups before a non-region contest with East Hall set for Dec. 21.

“It’s going to be crazy jumping right back into it like that, and it’s tough to correct your mistakes without getting those days to practice,” Rowland said. “Each team’s style of play is different so that it makes it tougher to adjust accordingly, but maybe learning on the fly will be better than I anticipate. We’ve got to go through some adversity here, but we can’t use it as an excuse. The kids have been in much better spirits than I would have thought, and I think they’re ready to fight through it.”

Apalachee is off to a 1-3 start, dropping three straight games after a season-opening win over North Springs on Nov. 20. The Wildcats returned just one player with extensive varsity experience entering this year, junior forward Josue Caples Torres, and he has been sidelined with an injury.

Rowland said his young team is coming along, but is still looking to put together four complete quarters. The Wildcats led 14-4 after a quarter against Central Gwinnett on Nov. 25, but wound up losing 60-35. And they had a nine-point lead entering the fourth period against Social Circle last week but couldn’t hold it in a 53-50 setback.

Rowland said he has seen solid performances thus far from junior Elijah Contreras as a calming presence at the point and from fast-paced senior guard Chase Reed, who is averaging 17 points and 5.1 rebounds per game and is shooting 36 percent from 3-point range. Also, the coach said 6-foot-6 senior center Evan Manotas has made valuable strides on the inside, giving the Wildcats more physicality on the glass.

“I feel like we’ve started playing well together — doing a good job of being unselfish, making the extra pass, valuing defense and rebounding and doing a better job of all the little things that we preach,” Rowland said. “Being so undersized, rebounding has been a big issue and turnovers have been our second biggest issue. A lot of that is based on us not making the right pass at times, but I see those things becoming more solid as we go along. When you have a lot of kids who have never been in these situations at this level and are inexperienced, they can get a little frazzled. But the further we get into it, the more we’ll be able to handle those situations.”


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