“I would have preferred to have closure on this season one way or another. For as crazy as it sounds, I would have rather have gotten beat by 20 points than have it end the way it did.”
As the Morningside Mustangs men’s basketball team walked off the court after defeating the College of the Ozarks by 41 points in their National tournament opener, for the seniors they had no idea that this would be the last time that they would play in their careers.
It’s a heartbreaking reality six Mustangs seniors faced. Due to the threat of spreading the Corona virus, their careers cut short, right before their run at the national championship. But somebody had to break the news to them.
“The very first time I couldn’t look at these guys eye to eye in the four years that they’ve been here was when we were practicing at the national tournament and found out that the tournament had been cancelled,” said Morningside men’s head basketball coach Jim Sykes. “And all I could do was look at my phone and read the email sent by the NAIA. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”
Morningside entered the tournament as a one seed, staying in the top four of the NAIA polls all season, including being the number one team for more than half of the season. Basically, this was a team expected to be one of the last ones standing. And yet they, like everyone else, were left with the resounding question: what if?
“We don’t know what this team was able to do,” said Sykes. “I had a good feeling of what they could do. It stinks for all the hard work these guys have put in over the last four years in the summers, and the falls, and spring. And I was really pleased with how we came out and took care of business against the College of the Ozarks, and was looking forward to a match-up with Oklahoma Wesleyan, which hopefully turned into a deep run in the tournament. Who knows what that meant, but we’re never going to know now.”
Since the tournament’s cancellation players and fans have said seniors should get an extra year to play because of the lack of postseason. It’s a hot topic in all circles, but coach Sykes, while understanding his players are upset they missed out, thinks there’s better things on the horizon for his six seniors.
“I think it would be a long shot,” said Sykes. “When we’ve played 30 games to allow for an extra year of eligiblity. And quite honestly, our seniors are ready to get jobs. They’ve done what they needed to do in the classroom, and I think it would be tough to ask any of those guys to come back for another year.”
Just about every basketball team in the country is dealing with the disappointment of how their seasons ended. Closure is a wonderful thing, and many teams will never get it for the 2020 postseason. For the Mustangs, coach Sykes hopes next year’s team uses it as motivation for another season like this one.