Bailee Collins did not simply want to play basketball.
She wanted closure.
The 2017 Milton High graduate is wrapping up her senior year at UW-Stevens Point, and any semblance of a final women’s basketball season felt critical.
“These people, for the last four years, have been my family,” Collins said. “I spent the majority of my time with them and didn’t come home very often. Coach (Shirley) Egner and Coach (Diane) Gilbert were like my moms at school, and the athletic training staff were like my brothers and sisters, and my teammates were my best friends.
“It was nice to be able to get that one last season and know that COVID couldn’t take that away from us.”
The Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference did not play sports in the fall, and it put winter sports on hold while it attempted to secure enough testing to safely attempt to play.
The league announced Jan. 19 that winter sports would begin. For basketball, it meant an eight-game schedule in February against conference opponents only, culminating in a conference tournament at the end that included all teams.
“There were some tears, for sure,” Collins said of her reaction to the announcement of the return to play. “It was just so surreal to be able to get one last go. It was incredible news.”
UW-Stevens Point went 3-6 on the season, beating UW-Platteville twice and picking up a win against UW-River Falls. The Pointers lost their opening-round game of the WIAC Tournament, 59-53, at UW-La Crosse.
But Collins made the most of her nine-game final season. She led the team in scoring at 13.8 points per game and rebounding at 9.4 per game. She shot 46.9% from the floor.
Last week, the WIAC announced Collins was named first-team all-WIAC after earning honorable mention status last year as a junior.
“Playing did feel pretty normal,” Collins said. “I don’t know if that was the same feeling for everyone else. But basketball is second nature when you’ve been playing since second grade. So being out there and getting to play felt like a return to normalcy.
“The only hard part was playing in masks, when we had to do that at some places. I have asthma, so that was a little difficult But our athletic training staff was really good.”
Collins said what happened beyond the basketball court was even more impressive than everything that occurred on it during a shortened season.
The team started workouts in September and official practices in October, not knowing if there would ever be games played.
When it was announced games would be played, the work was only just beginning for everyone involved.
“I’m really grateful that we even got the chance,” Collins said. “The amount of work that went into this season that people don’t get to see was insane. Athletic directors staying up all night, game management people, people who recorded our games would record four games (basketball and hockey) at a time to make sure our parents and fans could see it. The janitors and cleaning staff were at the gym so late and so early just to get everything together and take it apart.
“It was a group effort.”
Collins could have chosen to continue her basketball career. Because of the way COVID-19 has altered the college sports landscape, the NCAA ruled that players would not lose a year of eligibility.
But Collins has chosen to move on. She is on track, she said, to graduate in May with a degree in political science, as well as a double minor in public administration policy analysis and environmental studies.
“Last summer, I was supposed to go to Kenya with a group from the school and study third-world sustainability. I wasn’t able to do that because of COVID,” Collins said. “I’m hoping to get an internship this summer to get my feet wet, maybe working in environmental policy at the state level. My dream job one day is to work on climate change policy.”
And so the season—short as it was—gave Collins a chance to stay on track while also getting the basketball closure she had hoped for.
“That was a pretty tough decision (to not stay and play another year in Stevens Point),” Collins said. “But I really want to start the next part of my life. I feel like, with COVID hitting, I don’t want to change my plans. I want to stick with what I’ve always wanted to do—and that’s graduate in four years and start my life, wherever that may take me.
“I don’t want COVID to take that away from me.”
All-WIAC Women’s Basketball Team
Bailee Collins, sr., F, Stevens Point (Milton High); Maizie Deihl, sr., G, Eau Claire; Maiah Domask, sr., F, Platteville; Katie Essen, sr., F/C, Eau Claire; Emma Gamoke, jr., G, La Crosse; Aleah Grundahl, so., F, Whitewater; Leah Porath, sr., G, Oshkosh; Jessie Ruden, so., G, Eau Claire; Johanna Taylor, sr., C, Whitewater.
Honorable mention: Nikki Arneson, Oshkosh; Ellie Clayton, Eau Claire; Taylor Greenheck, Stevens Point; Tess Johnson, Stout; Abby Kaiser, Oshkosh; Ava Kramer, La Crosse; Anna Mutch, Stout; Macy Nilsen, River Falls; Karsyn Rueth, Oshkosh; Caitlyn Tipton, Platteville; Jenna Zeman, River Falls
Player of the year—Leah Porath, Oshkosh. Coach of the year—Tonja Englund, Eau Claire.
All-WIAC Men’s Basketball Team
Ethan Anderson, jr., G, La Crosse; Levi Borchert, so., F, Oshkosh; Wyatt Cook, sr., F, La Crosse; Philip Flory, jr., F, Stevens Point; Gage Malensek, so., G, Whitewater; Eddie Muench, sr., G, Oshkosh; Alex Ohde, sr., F, River Falls; Hunter Plamann, jr., G, Oshkosh; Quentin Shields, sr., G, Platteville; Justin Stovall, sr., F, Platteville.
Honorable mention: Tyresse Alexander, Stout; Seth Anderson, La Crosse; Trevon Chislom, Whitewater; Noah Hanson, River Falls; Cam Kuepers, Eau Claire; Will Mahoney, Oshkosh; Garrett Nelson, Stevens Point; Armani Tinsley, Stout; Kyle Tuma, Platteville.
Player of the year—Wyatt Cook, La Crosse. Coach of the year—Kent Dernbach, La Crosse.