All posts by Matthew Drewry

Winona State University forecasts fall semester

Winona State University recently announced plans to hold a majority of classes in person for the fall 2021 semester.

Dean of Students, Karen Johnson, explained the decision.

“We are hoping for 70 percent in-person classes. Which to me that just seems like a really nice mix because some students truly do like the online classes,” Johnson said.

Professor Andrea Gierok, instructor in the public health program, gave her thoughts.

Ken Janz, Winona State’s chief information officer, dean of the library and associate vice president for academic affairs said Winona State consults many sources for guidance on COVID-19 policy.

“One of our biggest guides is from both MDH [Minnesota Department of Health], and the system office on where they feel we should be,” Janz said. “And we just try and make the best plan to create the balance, to create a safe environment, but a great learning environment. And those aren’t always compatible, but we try to make them as much as possible.”

Janz, along with a group of faculty and administration lead  a committee named the COVID Classroom Instruction Action Option Group, responsible for making decisions that affected the future semester, including course offerings.

Janz cited a variety of factors, including future social distancing guidelines being lowered to three feet and vaccine distribution as important to allow for fall classes in-person.

“In the latest MDH guidance fall planning, you can do three-feet social distancing.” Janz said. “So, you know what three-feet social distancing is? That’s almost a small classroom. It really is. Depending on the level of circulating virus, universal masking may still be required and depending on level and circulation of virus, assigned seating may be required.” 

The Winona State COVID-19 dashboard visualizes reported data for the spread of COVID on campus during spring semester. Source:

Gierok said the current regulations have allowed for certain spring classes to be conducted in person safely.

“I think they’re doing it now safely in some classes. I think as long as we’re vigilant about lessening the risk,” Gierok said. “So, you know, like I said, the distance, the masks, the cleaning of classrooms after students leave, all of the things they’re doing now, I think if they continue to do those things in the fall, I think the risk is pretty minimal.”

Cleaning supplies sit among records at KQAL 89.5, the school’s radio station. DJ’s are required to wipe down the studios touch points at the end of every shift.

Gierok spoke highly of Winona State’s compliance and attentiveness to guidelines but noted that risk still exists in returning to in-person.

“I think Winona State has done everything they needed to get us safely back in the classrooms or as much as they can possibly do. They’re following CDC guidelines and they’re following recommendations from the Department of Health and working with Winona county emergency management,” Gierok said. “So, I feel safe going back into the classroom. But I don’t have any real health issues or pre-existing conditions. 

Mackenzie Moroney, a graduate in nursing this fall semester, shared her opinion on the decision.

“I think that’s really exciting because I had like my first couple years in person and then last year was online, and I just loved the in-person,” Moroney said. “I felt like I was able to actually concentrate a little bit more and be able to really like retain the knowledge, especially being in nursing because in nursing it’s so hands-on.”

Johnson shared a similar excitement.

Ava Beal is a fourth-year student at Farmington High School attending Winona State in the fall.

Beal said all of her classes for her upcoming first year will be in person, noting her distaste of virtual classes.

“I’m not crazy about online classes,” Beal said.

Beal noted her excitement about having more freedom and concerns about staying motivated and accountable in the upcoming semester.

Basketball struggles to get on track due to COVID-19

This basketball season has been unlike any before it. After March cancellations due to COVID-19, the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference announced a modified schedule in November. In this season, Winona State University basketball teams are struggling to compete, facing frequent COVID cancellations.

The Warriors prepare for a rebound from a Duluth free throw. Matt Drewry

The Winona State University women’s team has played four of eight scheduled contests, falling to 0-4 after a 81-79 loss against Augustana University Saturday 26th, before cancellation of Sunday’s game due to COVID. Winona State men’s basketball beat Augustana Saturday 87-82 and lost a rematch Sunday 63-73 to a 3-2 record, playing five of eight games so far.

Both Winona State basketball teams faced University of Minnesota-Duluth Jan. 2 before a positive COVID test within the Winona program ended the series. The Warriors resumed last season’s schedule against the Duluth Bulldogs, with the men’s matchup in Duluth’s Romano Gymnasium and the women facing off in Winona State’s McCown Gymnasium.

The Bulldogs handily beat both Warriors teams. Men’s basketball lost 59-81, while the women’s team fell 47-68. 

Center Ava Sergio shoots against the Duluth defense.
Matt Drewry

Winona State women’s basketball coach Scott Ballard said the team faced an old opponent with a new playstyle. 

“We’re basically running a new offense and a new defense from last year and It just takes time and reps to become consistent, Ballard said. “When you play a team the quality of Duluth, they will expose your inefficiencies or inconsistencies.

After the initial matchup, a positive test in the Winona sidelined both teams before their rematch, for the following two weeks, this meant cancelling contests against Southwest Minnesota State University and the men’s game against the University of Sioux Falls. 

Precautions for this season included back to back games against a single opponent per week and mandatory cancellations and quarantines, following NCAA Sports Science Institute guidelines for COVID safety. The Warriors compete in McCown Gymnasium with only players and media present. 

Second-year point guard Bill Flowers described the new environment COVID brings to the court.

“Being in silence, it’s very weird.” Flowers said. “It’s like actually playing a five on five in, like, an empty gym.”

The Warriors’ Women’s bench watches the game  against   Duluth. Matt Drewry

Athletes also face stringent COVID restrictions off the court.

Ballard said those restrictions include COVID testing three times a week in addition to testing on game day. 

Flowers said the whole team faces restrictions beyond cancellation of games.

“If you did not test positive, we are allowed to have the coaches setup an individual workout,” Flowers said. “But each player has to be at their own separate basket, like at least 20 feet away,” 

Ballard said quarantining challenges the whole team in unique ways.

“Our goal is to get better every week.” Ballard said. “Well, how difficult is it to get better every week when you have to stop and pause for two weeks and then restart again? You have to backtrack and review and relearn some things.” 

The Winona State Warriors women’s basketball team huddles during a team timeout. Matthew Drewry

Ballard described the frustration players face against the invisible opponent of COVID, including the toll on their mental health. 

“The mental health and mindset of our players going through this is my biggest concern because even those who have had a positive test at sometime in the last six weeks, none of them had symptoms,” Ballard said. “Everybody feels great. They feel normal. They just have a test that says positive on it. It’s really difficult for athletes and competitors to handle.”

Flowers said the experience has brought the team together.

  “It changed my opinion on how close a group of teammates and a group of players should be,” Flowers said. 

Flowers also said this has changed his perspective on the season.

“We’re not guaranteed to have a season. We’re not guaranteed to even play basketball or make it to the championship or anything,” Flowers said. “But one thing is guaranteed: we’ll have one another’s backs and be together and just make the most [of this] opportunity.”