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story.lead_photo.caption Lincoln guard Natasha Elliott passes the ball around Washburn guard Taylor Johnson during a game this past season at Jason Gym. Elliott is one of nine underclassmen who could return to the Blue Tigers next season. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / News Tribune.

It's not the easiest of times to be searching for a basketball coach, but that's what Lincoln University is currently tasked to do.

The head-coaching position for the Lincoln women's basketball team has been open the entire month of March, after the Blue Tigers and Ayana McWilliams parted ways following the final game of the 2019-20 season.

But within the next couple of weeks after the regular season ended, COVID-19 and the coronavirus pandemic made finding a head coach a bit more difficult for Lincoln.

"We're moving forward," Lincoln athletic director John Moseley said. "It's important that we get a coach hired so that the coach has an opportunity to begin recruiting and filling their team for next year."

The challenges presented there come with the announcement earlier this month from the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association. Beginning March 12, the conference suspended all activities — practice and competition — until further notice, regardless of sport or season.

"It will be a challenge for the new coach, because they will not have the opportunity to get on the court and work with the athletes, or evaluate the athletes, that are currently in the program," Moseley said.

Lincoln closed its campus starting Wednesday, but Moseley said the school began interviewing candidates for the position last week.

"Our process for hiring a coach really hasn't had to change at this point," Moseley said. "We'll do Zoom interviews or online interviews with some candidates. What will become a challenge is whether or not those candidates are able to visit campus to see it for themselves, or whether they're willing to take a chance on the university, knowing what we're able to show them via technology. That will be something that we have to work through."

Moseley said the goal is to hire a women's basketball coach in the next couple weeks, "so that person can get to work and start building their program."

III

The Lincoln men's basketball team was able to conclude its season at the MIAA Tournament in Kansas City before the MIAA suspended athletic play.

But a handful of other MIAA schools did not get that chance to finish their season.

On the men's side, top-ranked Northwest Missouri was scheduled to host one of the eight regionals in the NCAA Division II Tournament.

Missouri Southern and Rogers State were also participating in that regional.

Northwest Missouri will have to wait another season to defend its 2019 NCAA Division II national championship.

"Many of them are just disappointed," Moseley said. "As coaches, you understand that only one team is going to win their last game when you get to that point. But I think those coaches would agree that they would have liked to have had that opportunity to give their teams a chance to play.

"Everyone understands the severity of the situation, and so that it makes it a little bit easier to swallow. I know (Northwest Missouri coach) Ben (McCollum) ended up being the Division II national coach of the year, an honor that so deserves for the way his team performed throughout the year. I think Ben, right now, would trade that opportunity, if he was able to get on the court and have his kids compete."

Central Missouri was also slated to host a regional on the women's side, with Emporia State and Fort Hays State joining the Jennies in the eight-team, single-elimination bracket.

The top-ranked Drury women's basketball team, like the Northwest Missouri men, was denied a chance to defend its No. 1 ranking during the postseason.

Other Missouri programs that qualified for the Division II basketball championships were the Truman State men, the Missouri-St. Louis men and the Lindenwood women.

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