With a healthy roster and a brand-new destination, the Skagit Valley College men’s basketball team is headed — belatedly — to the Northwest Athletic Conference Tournament.
The Cardinals were originally slated to begin play in the tournament last weekend at Everett Community College, but the tournament was suspended when the campus was closed because a student tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Instead, Skagit Valley will play beginning Thursday at Clackamas College in Oregon City, Oregon. Rather than being played on back-to-back weekends the men’s tournament will be played Thursday through Sunday.
Skagit Valley will kick off tournament play against Highline at noon Thursday.
First-year coach Carl Howell said no matter the location, the important thing is that the Cardinals — who suffered a few late-season losses while shorthanded due to injuries — are finally at full strength.
The most notable of the injuries was to stellar point guard Marquan Williams, an all-region second-team selection.
“Marquan is as dynamic as any guard in the league,” Howell said. “Other guys did a good job stepping in but without him we don’t have that advantage.”
With Williams back and other players on the mend, Howell said, the Cardinals will hopefully have that advantage back.
Skagit Valley was white-hot to start the season, winning its first 22 games and rising to No. 1 in the NWAC coaches’ rankings. But injuries hit, and at one point the Cardinals lost four of six.
They were a different team then than they are now, Howell said.
“This is as healthy as we’ve been since mid-January,” he said. “Not everyone is 100% but we’re as close as we’re going to get. Every team goes through adversity, unfortunately ours happened when it did. At one point we had two starters out.”
Howell said he’s thankful the team got back to near full strength late in the season, which allowed it to shake off any potential rust.
“We got past that, and I think the last game showed that,” he said.
The Cardinals’ final regular-season game was a 79-58 win over Olympic that included a game-high 15 points from Williams.
If Skagit Valley gets past Highline in its opening game, it will likely see one of the NWAC’s other premier teams in the second round: host team Clackamas, which is 25-3 and the top team from the South Region.