Normally tasked with packing for travel games and assisting with practice drills, women’s basketball managers are now tested regularly for COVID-19 and sequestered to residence halls outside of team activities.
The squad’s two team managers, senior Maya Lilly and junior Matab El-Hassan, said they’ve needed to maintain strict schedules to keep equipment sanitized and separated to help the program stay healthy throughout the season. They said despite the tight rules this season around the pandemic, they’ve been drawn to support the team because of their love for the sport and the tight-knit relationships they formed.
“We have to just double check the other schools, so making sure that all the sanitizing equipment is packed with us, additional masks, gloves, all that stuff,” Lilly said. “The girls have their own personal masks, so it’s a lot more to keep track of. I would say that comes out more in travel than anything else.”
Prior to the pandemic, managers on the women’s basketball team focused on organizing equipment, packing uniforms and travel necessities and tracking statistics during games. They also ensured the personal needs of players, like hydration during practice and games, are met every day.
Lilly, who has been a manager of the team since her freshman year, said they also travel with the squad for every road game during the regular season.
But once the pandemic hit, the team’s managers now have to abide by stricter sanitization and equipment policies along with their previous responsibilities. The managers said they separate all laundry and complete it on a strict schedule for student-athletes to have fresh equipment to wear for practice and games.
Lilly added that towels are traditionally provided by the hosting team. But this season, managers need to pack separate towels that are color coordinated for each athlete to prevent sharing, she said.
“The packing amount that we had before, which is already a lot if you imagine what a basketball team would need on the road, is maybe doubled, or even tripled,” Lilly said.
The pandemic has also dwindled the number of managers available. Prior to the start of the season, head coach Jennifer Rizzotti said only one manager was on campus. She added that graduate assistant coaches Ariel Stephenson, Sarah Overcash and Anna Savino – who was a team manager turned player – stepped in to fill in gaps.
“We only have one right now,” Rizzotti said prior to the season. “They’re really able to help us with setting up for practice and making sure that the film is ready.”
Lilly said she just arrived to campus in January and was able to slot back into her managerial role with El-Hassan for her final semester at GW.
Just like the rest of the Tier 1 personnel, managers try to limit interaction with people outside the team’s “bubble” and get tested regularly.
“We aren’t allowed to interact with people outside of the team,” El-Hassan said. “We have this bubble right now, and just not going out, just being respectful of rules in terms of the pandemic itself.”
Managers are compensated financially for their work, but for El-Hassan and Lilly, the job also gives them unlimited access to a sport they’ve grown to love. In high school, Lilly was a four-year varsity basketball player, and she turned down multiple opportunities to play in college to come to GW.
“I get a ton of enjoyment just about being around basketball,” Lilly said. “And the coaching staff does a fantastic job of trying to keep me in the action a little bit, just like feeling a part of a team. These last four years have meant a lot to me.”
Along with assisting in drills and pregame shootarounds, the managers said they also bond with the team off the court by attending the annual lip sync battle and a Thanksgiving dinner at Rizzotti’s house.
While El-Hassan does not have a playing background, she said she shared Lilly’s love for basketball. The two were friends before El-Hassan joined the staff last season, and she said seeing how much Lilly enjoyed being a manager motivated her to give it a try.
“They’re just all really great people just to be around in general,” El-Hassan said. “That’s also what makes the environment so great, how sweet the girls all are and how easy they are to talk to.”
Both said they have formed close relationships with the players and coaches on the team. As managers, they and the team live in District House and maintain a lot of “outside communication” with the players, Lilly said. She added that some teams have “diva”-like reputations, but she’s found the opposite to be true of GW players.
“These girls don’t have that at all,” Lilly said. “They are willing to help us any chance that they get, and they’re also really sweet to us and actually reciprocate, trying to form those relationships with us as much as we would want to form them with them.”