Joshua Mabry, Campus Carrier sports editor
The Berry men’s basketball team defeated Sewanee: The University of the South 77-50 in the Southern Athletic Association (SAA) quarterfinals game on Sunday to advance to the semifinals this Saturday at 6 p.m. against Hendrix College at Hendrix.
Head coach Mitch Cole said that he feels confident in where his team is right now.
“I think both physically and mentally, everyone seems to be improving and getting better and peaking at the right time,” Cole said. “That’s what we’ve talked about all year, just being at our best in February. We’re anticipating a great game this weekend and hopefully we can advance and keep playing through March.”
There were 10 new players on this year’s team, according to Cole. He said the way that the newcomers have meshed well with the returners has been the thing about this season that stands out most to him.
The fact that the team is playing as well as they are at the end of the season speaks volumes to both the character of the team and how hard each member of the team has worked and persevered this season.
Cole said that the fashion in which the team won the quarterfinals was great and is something else that stands out to him. In addition to this, he said that throughout the course of the season, there have been players who do not get much playing time who have stepped up in key moments for the team.
“That’s been very fulfilling and satisfying to see guys persevere and stay with the process and just the way they’ve handled themselves on and off the court,” Cole said.
Cole said that the team has had success off the court this season. How the team has managed life off the court with life on the court this season is something else that Cole said he is proud of.
In the fall semester, the team’s combined GPA was approximately 3.2.
Going forward to get ready for the semifinals and potentially beyond that, Cole said his team has to keep improving in practice this week.
“We’ve got to have some really good practices and go to the game with a singular purpose, just play our best, play at our peak, play for one another, stay connected, all the things we talk about,” Cole said.
Senior forward Caleb Haynes said that during the season, the Vikings have had great off-the-court chemistry, which has been one factor that has helped them get to the point they are at now.
Haynes said that during the season, teams typically play for a high seed in the conference tournament.
“It’s basically a new season once the tournament starts because once the tournament starts anyone has a chance to win the whole thing,” Haynes said.
Berry is starting to come together as a team and is peaking at the right time, according to Haynes. He said that he hopes that the success that the team had against Sewanee spills over to the semifinals game against Hendrix.
Haynes said that he feels confident in the team going into the semifinals game.
“We have a bunch of different guys that contribute to our team, which I think give us an advantage,” Haynes said. “We don’t just rely on one person, which late in the season is huge.”
Haynes said that the Vikings have already lost twice to Hendrix in overtime this season, which makes going into this weekend difficult.
Focusing on defense will be key going into the game against Hendrix, according to Haynes.
“We take a lot of pride in our defense and trying to hold teams to low percentages and they got some guys that can score the ball well,” Haynes said. “Being aware of guys and not going through any lapses or stretches where we lose focus will be crucial for us.”
Junior guard and forward Rob Mbenoun said that he personally has performed as well as his team has this season, despite not having much playing time.
“I talked to coach about it and he told me to just keep going and not stop,” Mbenoun said. “There’s going to come a time when I’m going to have to play and play good.”
Mbenoun echoed Cole and said that the team has been playing well this season. While they have had ups and downs this season, Mbenoun said that he thinks the team is coming together at the right time.
Mbenoun said that Cole always talks about focusing on the day at hand and then the next day. He said that if the team just focuses on practice this week, then they will be ready to face Hendrix in the semifinals on Saturday.
The relationships that the players have had this season, especially considering how many new players, transfers and freshmen the team have this season, have helped the team get to this point in the season, according to Mbenoun.
The women’s basketball team ended their season after falling 64-53 to Centre College in the SAA quarterfinals on Sunday.
Head coach Thomas Johnson said that even though everyone always gets bummed out after falling in the conference tournament, he is very proud of everything that his team accomplished this season.
“I thought that with the injuries we had during the course of the year and the amount of key people that either missed time in practice or games, for us to finish where we were was a good accomplishment,” Johnson said. “You can’t make excuses and obviously, we didn’t get it done, injuries or not.”
Berry finished the season tied for fourth with Millsaps College and Birmingham- Southern College.
While that is in the top half of the conference standings, Johnson said that his team’s goal was to win a championship this year, and they fell short of that.
The toughness of this year’s team is something that stands out about this season, according to Johnson.
“We had eight key people at some point in time injured,” Johnson said. “Despite that happening, they played through it, some that probably shouldn’t have. I think that our team chemistry was amazing.”
Johnson said that at the beginning of the season, the Vikings had some hiccups, but they quickly bounced back and had success.
“Our kids work really hard, both on the court and off, and I couldn’t be prouder of them,” Johnson said.
Junior guard Jana Morning said that she personally did not reach the goals that she wanted to this season.
She wanted to average the most points, which she said that she barely fell short of. She also said that she wanted to win another SAA Player of the Week, which she did not do.
Morning said that the conference has not released the conference first-team, second-team and honorable mentions yet, but she is hoping to make first-team.
“With how stiff the competition was this year, there were so many good people on other teams,” Morning said. “I don’t know if I’ll reach that goal either, so that’s disappointing, but what can you do? You can only look for next year.”
Morning said that she enjoyed this season, but the team did not do anything monumental.
Last year, the Vikings had a nine-game winning streak and the year before that, they made it to the SAA semifinals, according to Morning.
“We had a less-than-average record this season, so I just feel like it was a season that it didn’t do our hard work justice or the seniors justice and all the work they put in,” Morning said.
Morning echoed Johnson and said that the toughness of the people on the team this season is what stands out to her. However, she said that looking at the season, she does not want to sugarcoat the results. She said that the team did put in work, but their results did not reflect their goals and what they aimed to do.
Senior forward McKenzie Smith said that she personally met a few goals this season despite having an injury. She said that her goals for the team were to win a championship and win more than 20 games, which the team did not accomplish.
Even though this season had a disappointing outcome, Smith said that there were some positives this season.
“As a team, our chemistry was pretty good this year,” Smith said. “I think it’s better than it has been.”
Sophomore forward Madeline Sandman said that even though the team grew on and off the court this season, that did not result in the wins that the team wanted.
Sandman said that this year’s team was able to push each other more this season compared to previous seasons.
“We really developed relationships further than it went last year,” Sandman said. “I think if we continue to do that, it’s going to affect a positive way next year and in the coming seasons with good leadership.”
Johnson said that he appreciates everyone who came out and supported his team this season. The team is taking a break until spring break and then will start preparing for next season.
“I’m really, really appreciative of our seniors and the hard work that McKenzie and [Eveline Parsons] did for us in the past three years that I’ve been here,” Johnson said. “They’ll be really hard to replace, but they’re family, I know they’ll still around be around and be a part of our program.”