The pandemic has put on hold the high-profile coaching debut of Tara Starks with the Hopkins girls' basketball team. And Wednesday's announcement by Gov. Tim Walz, extending the hiatus of youth sports until Jan. 4, drew out Stark's wait a little longer.
Starks, a highly successful coach at the AAU level and a mentor to UConn freshman Paige Bueckers while she was in Minnesota, was chosen to coach Hopkins in August. She replaced Brian Cosgriff, who resigned after 21 seasons and seven state championships.
So far, however, all Starks has been able to do is meet virtually with her team.
"I was hoping to be able to talk to [the team] today and have good news," Starks said in a phone interview Wednesday. "It's been frustrating. I'm not used to this. I haven't done anything since July."
That lack of action has been forced her to go a little stir crazy, Starks said.
"It's been driving me a little crazy. I find myself watching the same games over and over again on TV, adding things to the offense, writing little things down, just trying to stay optimistic and stay positive," she said.
Despite her own worries, Starks said her biggest concern was for her players, who continue to be cooped up at home, unable to return to the normal routine of their lives.
"It's been pretty stressful. Our kids are used to being in the gym, working on their games and being with each other," Starks said. "I was ready for [the governor] to lift the lid and let us go."
In place of practice, the Royals been resigned to team-building through shared screen time and bonding, and talking college basketball via Google Meets. Starks hasn't tried to do much more.
"I don't want to coach basketball virtually," she said. "We've done some things, like talk about [former Tennessee women's coach] Pat Summit's Definite Dozen tips for success and things like that, but I want to get back in the gym and get shots up and start working some skill development."
The way Starks sees it, bringing the team together is the best way to control the spread of the virus.
"The benefit of leading practices is that it locks the kids into being committed to this one thing," she said. "Instead of traveling all over during Christmas, they've got this thing they're committed to. And most of my Hopkins parents have been doing a really good job at keeping the kids from having a lot of contact with people where there might be COVID contact. We've been doing all the right things and we'd have more control of what they're doing."
Overall, the attitude of the players has been positive, Starks stressed, but she worried about the letdown her team might face when told there is still more than two weeks to go until they can get together.
"I'm dreading having that conversation, but the reality is we can't sit around and whine and moan about it," she said. "We just have to accept it and move forward. I'm a firm believer that things happen the way they're supposed to."
The time will come soon that Hopkins, with a 62-game winning streak — the second-longest in state history — gets back into the gym. That day, Starks confirmed, is what she's looking forward to the most.
"For me, I could care less about the games," she said, her voice brimming with anticipation. "I just want to get into the gym, check in with the kids and start having conversations with them and get some work in. That's the biggest part of my role."