Taking over as the head coach of a Division I program would be hard enough in a typical year, let alone one with a pandemic on top of it. When Omaha women’s basketball head coach Carrie Banks took the job in April, she knew it’d be a learning process and a year full of adjustments, but not to this extreme.
“No two days are the same,” Banks said with a laugh. “Obviously as a first-year head coach, it’d be tough enough, but having to navigate the pandemic on top of it has made it a roller coaster ride.”
Like multiple programs around campus, women’s basketball has been impacted by the coronavirus shutdown. Games have been canceled along the way, but it hasn’t taken away from the growth Banks has seen on the court.
“I say it’s been a roller coaster ride, but I feel like I’ve got my arms up in the air and I’m ready for what’s next,” she said. “It’s certainly had its ups and downs, but it’s been fun. I think if you look at our record, I don’t think it reflects our experience truly, because I feel like I’ve seen a lot of growth and I’m really excited for the future of the program.”
That future is one of the things that made the position so enticing before she took the job.
“I just really think Omaha was a hidden gem,” Banks said. “When I got here and saw everything that they had going on, I just thought that this was a place where you could win. Great facilities, a very enthusiastic and supportive administration, and it was a place that I thought was oozing with potential.”
Now 10 months into the job, the first-year head coach is slowly but surely settling in. On the court, the toughest part has been having people rotate in and out of quarantine with the COVID-19 protocols. It’s made it tough to develop any type of consistent rhythm on the court when all 14 members of the roster aren’t able to practice together.
On top of not getting those practice reps together, the bigger challenge has been the lack of games. Banks said they’ve tried to create a game-like atmosphere at practice, but at the end of the day, that’s not always easy to replicate.
“We’ve played nine games and it’s the first week of February,” Banks said. “You’re talking about a point of the season where we’d probably have played 20 games, so our kids really just need that experience of competing in a game day atmosphere with officials, fans, and everything else. There’s nothing like being out there in those moments.”
So far this season, six games have been canceled and the Mavericks have only played four times since mid-December. It’s been frustrating, but the month of February features the remaining eight games on the schedule. The goal for the rest of this month starts with the expectations set by the Mavericks head coach.
“I want to see our kids fight through adversity,” Banks said. “We’ve had a lot of games where we’ve been close, but we haven’t been able to get over the hump. I know it sounds so simple that winning cures all, but we really just need to get that feeling of winning so that our players know how to close out games.
“Our kids know that every single day I bring a very high expectation of how we’re going to perform and I’m proud to say that they’ll work very hard to meet them.”