There were no fans in the stands. OK, actually, there were 28. I counted them just before the game started.
None of them were students. None of them were for cheering for Marist. As part of COVID-19 precautions, only McAuley’s players were allowed two guests each.
And that was it, save for lower-level players from both sides who stayed around after they were done playing to do some cheering.
Marist senior Le’lani Harris is trying to get used to it at road games.
“It was definitely a weird feeling not having my family here,” Harris said. “And our student section always supports us. They’re a good asset to have. But this year being so crazy, we have to come together and cheer each other on.”
Mother McAuley athletic director Laurie Jakubczak wasn’t taking any delight in shutting out the student sections and all Marist fans. But she’s also taking the positives where she can find them.
“It’s a very different year,” Jakubczak said. “We’re actually very happy that we’re having any fans at all. There are some schools that aren’t even allowing home fans.
“As a conference, we decided that we would not have any away fans at any games. We kind of went with that, and we think we’re doing it pretty safely. But it doesn’t have the same Marist and McAuley feel, does it?”
Not at all.
The McAuley-Marist matchup, whether it’s in basketball or volleyball, is almost guaranteed to draw between 1,500 and 2,000 fans. The student sections are always packed, and the atmosphere is what I’d call a good raucous.
McAuley-Marist isn’t just a game or a match. It’s an event. And if it’s on a school day, it’s an all-day event, according to Marist coach Mary Pat Connolly.
“It’s really funny,” Connolly said. “You play 31 or 32 games in the regular season, and no one at school talks about any of them unless it’s McAuley or Benet. When the McAuley game is coming up, there is a hubbub throughout the whole building.”
If there was a hubbub Monday, it was half a hubbub because students are attending school in shifts. And if they were hubbubbing vocally, they were doing it through masks.
It was far from a normal day, according to Marist senior Sydney Affolter.
“It was a lot more quiet at school,” Affolter said. “But we had people coming up to us saying, ‘Good luck tonight.’ It was just, we didn’t have that theme going. We didn’t have the announcements over the intercom, which is really exciting on game day.”
Goodness, I hope this “new normal” is only temporary.
It certainly didn’t stop Affolter from having a great night on the court.
The Iowa recruit produced 29 points and 12 rebounds for Marist (4-0) in the 72-39 victory. Harris added 13 points and Emily Bojan had nine.
Mother McAuley (2-5) was led by junior transfers Nyla Walker and Faith Okorie, who had 11 points apiece. The Mighty Macs are most definitely a team of the future, which hopefully will include a chance next season to compete in a state tournament.
For Affolter, this was her last hurrah playing against McAuley. She won’t get that “last chance” at going to state.