By Bryce Koon, Reporter
A lot can change in one year.
The Berry men’s basketball team entered the 2018-2019 season coming off a historic conference championship run. The Vikings did the improbable after entering the conference tournament as the eighth seed before embarking on an unprecedented run and winning the program’s first conference title.
Fast-forward to this year. The Vikings opened the season with new faces everywhere, including a brand-new coaching staff led by Mitch Cole.
Cole joined the Vikings as the 12th head coach in program history after serving as the assistant men’s basketball coach at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for the past two years. Before that, he spent five seasons on the staff at Texas A&M and was formerly the head coach at current Southern Athletic Association (SAA) member Birmingham-Southern College.
Two other major additions were transfers Ethan Haslam and Caleb Haynes. Haslam transferred from South Alabama and brought depth to the wing position for the Vikings, while big man Caleb Haynes transferred from fellow Division III school Covenant College.
With big-time additions to the roster and coaching staff, positive vibes started to be felt around the team.
The Vikings began the season hot, jumping out to a 7-3 start in non-conference play. Although the out of conference schedule would not be considered a gauntlet by any means, it was a pleasant surprise to see the Vikings starting so strongly. Fans and students started to take notice as well.
Maybe this team would be special? Maybe last season’s magical run wasn’t just a fluke?
When the calendar flipped over to 2019, fans got the chance to see if their team was the real deal. The first weekend of conference play at home loomed with the likes of Sewanee, a consistent conference title contender, and Centre, a “blue blood” in Division III.
Coming into last Friday’s game against Sewanee, there might have been some doubt from the outside, but in the locker room before the team was set to take the floor against the Tigers, there was no fear to be found.
“Going into the weekend, I never got the sense of fear or hesitation,” said senior guard Quinn Atkinson. “We believed we had a realistic shot of winning the game.”
That confidence was on full display as the Vikings knocked off Sewanee 69-64 in an overtime thriller.
The excitement from that game could be seen all over social media, as fans and students claimed it was the greatest game to ever take place inside the Cage Center.
That assertion would only stand for a total of two days, before the Vikings handed the Centre Colonels a loss the following Sunday afternoon. It was the first time Berry had ever beaten Centre during the regular season in men’s basketball.
“It’s an underrated feeling and I don’t think the students understand how much of an impact they make,” Atkinson said. “It feels like we are supposed to match their energy, which only makes us play harder.”
— Berry Athletics (@BerryVikings) January 12, 2019
The Vikings were on the road this past weekend and split their two games: a loss to Hendrix and a win against Rhodes. They face both teams this upcoming weekend at home, and you better believe fans and students will pack out the arena.
The Berry athletics department announced in a Wednesday press release that both the men’s and women’s basketball teams will be attempting to break the Cage Center attendance records this upcoming Friday night.
The current men’s record for attendance is 2,151, set back in January 2011 when Berry hosted Shorter University. The women’s record is 1,934, set the same night in a game against Shorter.
This next weekend will be a huge test for the Vikings, and will really show if they have what it takes to compete with the big boys of the SAA.
It is safe to call what is occurring to this long-dormant program a complete culture change.
“We all believe and are committed,” said senior forward Elijah Hirsh. “Our goal is the same every day, whether it’s practice or a game: seize the moment.”
The Vikings have surely done that–winning not only games, but an entire student body and fanbase as well.
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