Sitting in a head coaches meeting at Mount St. Mary’s late Thursday morning, Maria Marchesano knew the inevitable was about to happen.
The rest of the Northeast Conference women’s basketball tournament was about to get canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Even sitting with her husband the night before, Marchesano had the feeling the plug was about to get pulled on her team’s remarkable season once the NBA had suspended its season indefinitely.
“I said we probably played our last game of the year to my husband,” the head coach of the Mount women’s team said. “Even if we do play [Thursday in the NEC semifinals against Fairleigh Dickinson], it will be the last game of the year. There is no way we would play Sunday [in the conference championship game].”
By the time the coaches meeting ended just before 12:30 p.m., the Northeast Conference had made the decision to cancel the rest of the women’s basketball tournament. The men’s tournament was completed Tuesday night.
Machesano had already seen the updates on her phone that major conferences were canceling their tournaments to help contain the spread of the virus. So, it was only a matter of time before the NEC took that drastic and undesirable step.
On Wednesday night, Mount St. Mary’s announced that the semifinal against Fairleigh Dickinson was going to be played in a close gym. Only players, coaches, essential personnel, media and limited family members would be permitted inside of Knott Arena. But this took that edict another step further.
The NCAA followed suit shortly thereafter by cancelling its men’s and women’s tournaments, thus ending March Madness for 2020 before it really had the chance to begin.
So, the Mount women, at 20-11 overall (15-4 NEC), in the midst of their best season since the turn of the century, two wins from their first league title since 1995, were left to digest everyone’s stark new reality.
“[The decision] was bigger than basketball. It was bigger than [team]. It was for the health of each other and our families,” said sophomore guard Michaela Harrison, the team’s leading scorer and a first-team All-NEC selection this season. “But it still hurt.”
As her meeting adjourned, Marchesano sent a text message to her players and staff summoning them to a team meeting at 1 p.m. at Knott Arena.
It got emotional quickly.
“As soon as I started talking, I saw a couple of [the players] tear up,” Marchesano said.
When athletic director Lynne Robinson addressed the team, attempting to explain the difficult decision, she started crying.
“She was so upset for us,” Marchesano said. “She was upset for all of the spring sports [which were also cancelled].”
Urbana graduate Kendall Bresee, who flourished in her first season of play at Mount St. Mary’s after transferring from George Washington, went back to her dorm and called her father.
“I just kind of broke down,” said Bresee, who was averaging more than 11 points and six rebounds per game and was named third team All-NEC this season. “I was super upset, and I think I was shocked because we were all going about our days getting ready for the game.”
The what-could-have-been factor will be something that Marchesano and her players will have to wrestle with for the foreseeable future.
The Mountaineers started training in July for this very week. They had won nine in a row in February as the season reached its critical point. They were the only team in the NEC to beat first-place Robert Morris all season, snapping a 14-game winning streak for the Colonials with a Feb. 21 road win.
The Mount women were the No. 2 seed in the NEC Tournament and hosted their first tournament game since 2014.
And while none of that can be taken away from them, they won’t get the chance to see it through to a final conclusion.
“You know, it’s a bummer,” Marchesano said, acknowledging at the same time it was the proper decision.
The good news for the Mount women is that everyone who played this season is eligible to return next season.
After the emotion and hard feelings subside, a new journey is tentatively scheduled to start in July with the hope of accomplishing even more next season.
“I am not going to dwell on this that long because it’s something that is out of our control,” Bresee said. “I think for the most part, I am going to try to use it as fuel to my fire for next year.”