Despite experiencing a basketball season full of postponements, cancellations and quarantine periods, Caison Hartloff looks back on it fondly.
The Claremore senior averaged 21.2 points and about seven rebounds per game in helping the Zebras to a 10-7 record in 2020-21.
“A lot of teams didn’t get to play, which sucked,” Hartloff said. “So we just took every week day-by-day, and this year was one of my favorites even though all the stuff going on. The coaches, they did everything they could to keep us playing because there’d be times the team we just played had COVID problems, so we’d have to quarantine and stuff. But whenever we were quarantined, they would stay in contact with us and make sure we’re doing all right and staying healthy.”
Hartloff said the masks and social distancing didn’t affect him too much, and the never-changing nature of basketball helped him stay grounded.
That composure earned him plenty of recognition, for he was named to the Oklahoma Coaches Association All-State team while also earning Metro Lakes Conference MVP honors.
“I’m just proud of myself,” Hartloff said. “I’ve been working hard my whole life. Ever since I was a freshman, I wanted to be All-State. This year, I didn’t know if we were going to have one, or if we were going to get enough games for me to even qualify for that. All the time in the gym away from friends and away from family, it paid off, and I’m just super excited.”
Of course, the season wasn’t without its struggles.
Claremore had at least seven games postponed or canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, which significantly impacted the team’s chemistry on the court.
The Zebras started the season with a 5-1 record but went 5-6 through their final 11 games, including two losses to a Tahlequah squad they beat 60-38 in the Port City Classic.
The seemingly constant start-stop pattern of the season had its toll on Claremore, and Hartloff and company dropped their final three games to close the roller coaster year.
“We started off really well and then got caught up in a COVID situation and had to quarantine and not play for two weeks,” Hartloff said. “After that, we weren’t playing the same. The relationship between the guys was still the same — we all love each other, we’re all super close and we all hang out — but after that, it just wasn’t the same. We just couldn’t get rolling. If we hadn’t been quarantined, I think it would’ve been a whole different season.”
Hartloff’s basketball journey didn’t end with a 61-50 loss to Tahlequah in the regional tournament on Feb. 26, though.
He is set to continue his career next season with Northeastern State University, where he will join a RiverHawks team that finished 5-17 in 2020-21.
He plans to help in the turnaround effort for the program, which has notched only one winning season since 2013-14.
Given his fast-paced playing style, Hartloff seems to be a perfect fit for what RiverHawks coach Ja Havens hopes to accomplish in the future.
“I’m not expecting a whole lot as a freshman, but the coaches have told me, ‘We expect you to come in here and make an impact,’” Hartloff said. “Because they want a lot of shooters and a lot of dudes who can run in transition, and that’s my strong suit; that’s why they recruited me.
“I’m just hoping I can see the floor a little bit, but I wouldn’t be upset if I were to be redshirted or anything like that.”