For the first time since 2013, Verdigris girls basketball won’t be competing in the Bank of Locust Grove Tournament.
COVID-19 issues surfaced within the program earlier this week, forcing it to withdraw from the event, which will be held today through Saturday. The Lady Cardinals won the tournament the past two years, defeating Locust Grove 56-41 in 2020 and Adair 40-27 in 2019 for the championships.
This is the second tournament Verdigris (4-1) is missing out on, for the Tournament of Champions — scheduled for Dec. 28-30 at the BOK Center in Tulsa — was canceled for reasons also stemming from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The Class 4A No. 6 Lady Cardinals were the top seed in the bracket and were set to open play against Nathan Hale at 10 a.m. They would’ve likely met Class 3A No. 4 Adair in Saturday’s championship in a rematch of Verdigris’ 53-32 victory on Dec. 18.
“I’m so disappointed for our seniors and for our players,” Lady Cardinals coach Mike Buntin said. “Our seniors won it back-to-back years and had a chance to win a three-peat. They’ve had so much already taken from them, and I feel awful. My heart breaks because they’re all such good kids, and they love to play the game. It was an opportunity to go do something special and win the tournament again and have a lot of success, so I ache for the seniors, especially, but all of our players.
“I just felt like we were ready to do something, and now we’re going to lose two weeks of opportunities to play games and get more practice time in a very critical part of the season.”
The team learned of the COVID-19 issues on Tuesday, and because of the quarantine period, the game at Vinita on Jan. 12 has also been called off. Buntin said he hopes that one can be rescheduled, but the chances of that are looking slim.
Verdigris is also trying to reschedule a game with Rogers County rival Inola, which was supposed to be played Tuesday night.
Buntin hasn’t received final word on when the Lady Cardinals can return to school and the court, but he is optimistic they will be back in time for the Oologah game Friday, Jan. 15.
If not, the next game would likely be Tuesday, Jan. 19 at Jay.
“We’ve already had so many games canceled, and I did talk to the players (Tuesday), and they want to play as many games as they can,” Buntin said. “If that means we have to reschedule and play four or five games a week, they want to play. This is one of those groups that I do trust that we could do that without a lot of practice time because there are kids who are very talented. I’m just so heartbroken for them because they are such a good group, and we want to get to play as many as we can.
“I hate it for them, but we’re going to come back, we’re going to keep working and we’re still going to do something special this year.”