It's not basketball yet, but it's still a welcome sight.
For the first time since early November, winter sports teams around the area were allowed to start team conditioning on Monday and as expected there was a mixed bag of results.
Some teams saw an uptick in turnout but the consensus was there's work to be done to get into game shape.
"We're pretty rusty right now," Westside girls head coach Darren Thomas said. "You have to think about it, these kids haven't really been in the gym here in almost a year. Some of them might have played a little out of state, but we lost eight seniors. The kids I have back are young girls and they haven't been able to do much since last March, so we're pretty rusty right now."
Girls basketball teams around the state were allowed to start conditioning the first week of November, but just a couple of days in Gov. Jim Justice pulled the plug on that, shelving winter sports until January and again until March. Eventually he compromised, allowing teams to start conditioning on Monday before moving into practices which start next week.
While the girls had a slight advantage in getting a few days in the gym, the boys were not afforded that same opportunity.
In the months since the mandate, athletes have been left to condition on their own.
For younger, aggressive teams there's been a disadvantage that may take time to remedy.
The Shady Spring boys basketball team graduated several key players, including four starters, forcing head coach Ronnie Olson to adjust how he disperses his practice time.
"I think we're going to have to lean on the games as a conditioning tool," Olson said. "We don't want to lose them, but we have a young team we've got to get ready. I have some kids that run cross country so they're naturally in shape. But I have some kids that are going to be in the rotation but they're way out of shape and I know it's going to take some time and it's probably going to take more time than we have right now. We're probably going to sub a little more and push conditioning more, but we're not going to change our style of play. I told the kids, don't let conditioning be the reason you don't play if your talent level is there.
"We need to get in there and get at it though. We need to learn and I think we can do both at the same time. I think it's going to hurt us though at first more than it hurts other teams — not being able to get some stuff in that we usually run. I hate that we're not going to have Christmas and Thanksgiving break like we usually do because that's where you make your bread and butter. We look at those breaks and the week before sectionals to gauge where you're at and we don't have that, but everyone has the same situation. They were all tired after conditioning, but I told them we've come a long way. A year ago we were all trapped in our houses, so relish it."
For teams like the Summers County girls basketball, there's potentially an advantage that Olson alluded to.
Many of the Lady Bobcats were a part of a volleyball team that advanced to the state tournament in the fall. After that run concluded and conditioning was shut down, the veteran team leaders took it upon themselves to stay in shape and organize small gatherings at the community fitness center in an effort to stay in shape.
"I think that's the advantage of having a small team," head coach Chad Meador said. "They're like a family and they all kind of have a job. They were able to get together on their own and organize team workouts and I've got to say, they've looked pretty good after a day of conditioning."
Of course Meador also echoed the same sentiments Olson did on the condensed period between conditioning and the start of the season and the impact it has on installing your plays and how practices will be structured.
"I think we're ahead of some other teams because we have so many seniors returning that have played a lot for us," Meador said. "They know the terminology and what they're supposed to do so that will probably help us a lot, but I've definitely had to look at how I design my practices. We used to set those weeks and breaks as benchmarks for when we'd install things like our diamond press. Now we don't have that. I think there's also going to have to be more teaching on the fly. I talk a lot in practice so I'll probably have to change that too. We're going to have to eliminate some things but we'll lean on experience."
"With that being said, I think a lot of teams will struggle with that. I think for us we're going to have to run a lot more motion and a few less sets. I've already started looking at this, but you go to your playbook and your play sheet and find four or five things you do well. Teams are going to run different defenses, but you find two or three plays for each scenario and you learn them and learn them well and play off that. I think our girls are going to play a little more on their own. We've always been a set play team. I'm not really a motion offense coach, but we did a lot more of that last year because I thought we needed it and I thought we got better at it and it got more people involved.