HELENA — When the Carroll College men's and women's basketball teams played the Dickinson State Blue Hawks on Friday night, the only people in attendance were the players, Carroll College officials, referees and media members. After the game was over, Saints sophomore guard Dennis Flowers III said the experience wasn't completely out of the ordinary for him.
"In AAU we play a lot of games, some of those games it's just your parents in the stands for five or six of them, especially if you guys are traveling. I played in California, so we go to Vegas, and might not be a lot of fans at the game," Flowers said, drawing on past experiences after the game. "I think it might take a little bit of adjusting to, because I like kind of the crowd. I get into it, but it's just basketball at the end of the day."
For some, not having spectators is going to be an adjustment -- like for former Helena High Bengal and current Carroll College sophomore forward Jamie Pickens, who has played nearly her entire life with at least her parents in attendance.
"It's just really different. So, you're not getting noise from fans and your parents aren't watching. I've always played close to home. I've never had my parents not come to a game, so that was kind of weird," said Pickens. "It was fun to be able to cheer your teammates on and know that you're the one bringing the energy and helping your team out instead of just fans that are doing it."
Without spectators in attendance, Pickens hit it on the head: Teams will have to create their own energy off the bench to both keep momentum or shift it back in their direction on the court. That's something both head coaches felt their teams were able to do as they beat the Blue Hawks.
"I thought the energy from the bench was great. I thought their communication was good, and I thought they were just really engaged in what was going on. I didn't really feel any differently, and I don't know that they did," said Carroll College head women's basketball coach Rachelle Sayers.
"We told our guys we've got to create our own energy from the bench. I thought our bench kids did a fantastic job," said Carroll College head men's basketball coach Kurt Paulson.
While playing without spectators is undoubtedly not the norm, the Frontier Conference instituted the policy prior to the season as a precautionary measure that could change in 2021. With both the Carroll College men's and women’s basketball teams being stripped of the opportunity to compete at the NAIA national tournament last season due to the pandemic, this year, fans or not, they're focused on what they can do to ensure they maximize the time they have on their hands.
"Our outlook is obviously a lot different. You know, we're just embracing every opportunity that we get. I think when you do that you keep it real simple, and the kids enjoy it," said Sayers. "If not, we're going to constantly be worrying about what tomorrow could bring, and that's not a way to have a season either. We just talk a lot about controlling things we can control."
"We're just taking it one day at a time. Things are changing so quickly and this was a hard week for our players," said Paulson.
The next time games to be played in the PE Center will be when the Carroll College women host their Thanksgiving classic on Nov. 27 and 28 when they host Corban University and Valley City University. The next time the Carroll College men will be on the floor, they'll be in Dickinson, N.D. taking on the Blue Hawks on Nov. 28