In her second season as the head women’s basketball coach at Long Island University (LIU) in Brooklyn, Rene Haynes is not allowing the challenges of navigating COVID-19 to diminish her goal of bringing the Sharks back to being one of the top teams in New York. As she, her coaching staff and the players comply with health protocols and uncertainty, Haynes keeps everyone focused.

NCAA Division I basketball play kicked off Nov. 25, but LIU did not play any non-conference games. The team dove straight into NEC action last week, splitting games with Sacred Heart University.

“[Preparation was] getting a chance to play against each other every day,” said Haynes of the team’s training. “We’ve been doing a lot of scrimmaging in practice, game-like scenarios.”

The coaches did a lot of individual work and small group work with the players to build up to playing as a team. Then the players started with four five-minute quarters and built up to full game length. Haynes said the team remained focused on itself.

“Even though this is my first head coaching [position], I’ve had really great head coaches to show me the way and show me what decision-making is all about, but also how to keep a team together,” said Haynes, who prior to coming to LIU in 2019 spent five years as an assistant coach at Duke University.

Haynes called other coaches to ask what mental exercises they utilized to keep players engaged during the extended period away from campus due to COVID-19. “It’s Zoom and guest speakers on Zoom that can relate to the team,” Haynes said. “Keeping the players mentally engaged and having fun even when they couldn’t play.”

The path to good results is about believing in her team and letting the players know that, Haynes said. “As a player, you want to know your coach has your back. In return, they give you respect. I encourage them to have fun, and especially during this time think about why they wanted to be here and why they love this game so much,” she said.

Last season, she implemented the motto “We Rise.” “We’re not running from anybody, anything or any adversity,” said Haynes. “We focused on rising and this year we’re building on that. I have a great group of girls. They believed from the start.”

To minimize travel, teams are playing games on two consecutive days against another school in the conference. LIU returns to action on Jan. 7 and 8 with games against Saint Francis University in Pennsylvania. The Sharks return to home court on Jan. 14 and 15 against Wagner College.