While schedules are still being finalized, Division I women’s basketball teams are gearing up for a return to action. Last week, the Big East Conference held its media day virtually for the first time. There was plenty of talk about the anticipation of returning to competition, but the coaches also addressed issues related to COVID-19 and #BlackLivesMatter.

St. John’s University was ranked fourth and Seton Hall University sixth in the Big East Preseason Coaches’ Poll. Two St. John’s players, sophomore guard Leilani Correa and senior guard Qadashah Hoppie, were named to the Preseason All-Big East Team. Seton Hall senior guard Desiree Elmore was also named.

“[Desiree has] gotten herself in tremendous shape,” said Seton Hall coach Tony Bozzella. “She’s been very dedicated. This is the most I’ve seen Des put into her game, so I’m really proud of her for that. She’s continued to get better, and we need her to play…like a First Team All-Conference player for us to hopefully be successful.”

St. John’s coach Joe Tartamella is looking for a big year from Hoppie. Known as a greater offensive player, she’s been working on raising her defense. “She’s just so humble; I think her leadership is now really shining,” said Tartamella. “She shows that every day in practice—the energy and communication she brings to our younger players.” He further noted that Hoppie is also outspoken on issues such as social justice and voting.

Last Thursday, Bethune-Cookman University, an HBCU institution in Florida that played in the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament in 2019, became the first D I institution to cancel all sports for the 2020-’21 academic year due to COVID-19. Bozzella and Tartamella said they are maintaining all health and safety protocols and training the players with the intention of playing this season.

“We try to make it as normal as possible in how we practice and how we operate from day-to-day,” said Tartamella. “We have to be the most flexible we’ve ever been in how we do things.”

St. John’s courses are in hybrid mode, with the majority of classes virtual, but some classes meeting in person one or two days a week. Tartamella said the players go to the socially distanced study hall to get out of their rooms and feel like they’re really in school.

“Our school has put forth some tremendous guidelines that’s made things very accessible for our student-athletes to still have a life, but also make things as safe as possible,” said Bozzella. “Our kids want to play basketball. They’re doing everything in their power to stay safe. Hopefully, that’s enough.”