A Tale of Two Tigers: Women’s Basketball claims SCAC Championship while Men’s Basketball Falls to St. Thomas

Cameron Hill’s team cuts down the nets at Calgaard Gym

Cameron+Hill+and+his+women%27s+basketball+team+pose+with+the+SCAC+trophy.+This+is+Trinity%27s+seventh+SCAC+Women%27s+Basketball+title.+Photo+provided+by+Trinity+Athletics

Cameron Hill and his women’s basketball team pose with the SCAC trophy. This is Trinity’s seventh SCAC Women’s Basketball title. Photo provided by Trinity Athletics

Over the weekend, the men’s and women’s basketball teams went in as top seeds and hosted the finals of the 2021 Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) Championships. The women’s team defeated Colorado College 73-63 to claim their seventh SCAC title, while the men’s team fell to St. Thomas 80-66.

Earlier in the season, the women’s team had lost to Colorado College twice in extremely close games. Cameron Hill, head women’s basketball coach, reflected on what allowed Trinity to win this time around.

“The biggest difference in this game was that it was on Championship Sunday. Playing for the title is a whole new bag,” Hill said. “But really, it came down to making some key adjustments both on offense and defense, and our girls really believed in and executed the plan. We didn’t have current film on Colorado the first two games, so we were flying blind trying to figure them out in real time. Having the time and opportunity to really game plan helped us a ton.”

According to senior guard Annie Wise, the team’s high energy and focused mindset also contributed to their win.

“The energy going into the game was special because we knew, win or lose, it was our last. This feeling was different; however, Coach Cam reiterated the fact that this should be the most fun and exciting game we’ve played all season. We put ourselves in the position to compete in the finals, and knowing it was our last game, everyone was loose and ready to enjoy one last game together,” Wise said.

Just after the women’s team cut down the nets in Calgaard Gym, the men’s team faced St. Thomas, who they had previously split games against during the regular season. After the Tigers lost to St. Thomas in the season opener, they kicked off a 10-game win streak that they carried into their rematch on Sunday. The championship game served as the series tiebreaker, and the rubber match went to the Celts.

“It was a great opportunity to play in the championship game. Although the outcome didn’t go the way we wanted, it will be a great experience for our guys and something that we will be able to learn from for the next time,” said Jimmy Smith, head men’s basketball coach.

Sophomore forward Enzo Sechi drives past a St. Thomas defender. The Tigers lost to St. Thomas in the SCAC Finals. Photo by Claire Sammons

After going back and forth throughout the game, the Celts began draining their shots, especially beyond the three point arc, to pull away in the second half. According to junior guard AJ Clark, the Celts simply made all the clutch plays late in the game.

“It was a close one throughout that we just let out of [our] grasp in the end. Credit to St. Thomas, they hit a lot of tough shots and came up with winning plays in the second half that we couldn’t,” Clark said.

Despite the loss, Smith is extremely proud of his team’s season and their resilience throughout the year.

“We had every possible hurdle thrown our way and every reason to make an excuse, and we simply did not. To win 10 games in a row in a pandemic is a really impressive feat,” Smith said.

After a successful first season leading the Tigers, Smith is looking forward to next season with the team. Smith thinks this SCAC Championship appearance is just the beginning for his young squad. He thinks the Tigers can win the SCAC Tournament and advance to the NCAA tournament next year.

“I believe we have the guys to make that happen, and I am hopeful that next season will be more normal,” Smith said.

Like the men’s team and every other Trinity sport, the women’s basketball team was thrown tremendous challenges in navigating an all but normal season thanks to the uncertainty of COVID-19. According to senior Emily Daniel, after dealing with COVID-19, the championship win meant even more.

“This win shows the hard work and perseverance that this team has exerted throughout this season. It shows the dedication that we as a team had, not only to playing but to each other. This win is the product of not only the hours spent in the gym but the decisions that we had to make to ensure this season even happened under the current circumstances,” Daniel said.

Hill explained that while it would have been easy to let the pandemic dampen their season, his team found ways to work past the challenges that this year presented.

“We did the hard stuff to get to the good stuff. I hope we never have to endure a national climate like this again, but in all honesty, I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. We have grown a ton, as coaches, players and people, but the most beautiful accomplishment of all was to watch this amazing group of women become champions,” Hill said.

For Wise, winning the championship as a senior added an extra cause for celebration.

“Not many seniors get to end their athletic careers with a win, and the fact that we got to cut down nets in our own gym was the sugar on top,” said Wise.

As happy an occasion as winning the championship can be, for Wise and the rest of the seniors, it is also a bittersweet goodbye to the sport they love.

“Trinity basketball brought me my closest friends for life, amazing coaches who are role models in every way possible and memories that outlast and outcompete any others I’ve made. There is something special about [Trinity women’s basketball] and it’s been an honor to watch who my teammates and I have become as a product of what Cam [Hill] and Joe [Shotland] have created for this program,” Wise said.

Jordan Rudd, the senior SCAC Defensive Player of the Year and SCAC Tournament MVP, tried to explain what being a part of the women’s basketball program meant to her but found herself struggling to accurately paint that picture.

“No words can describe what this program and the people in it mean to me. It would be a disservice to even try to explain the bond and love we share with each other. I will always know where my home is and who my people are. And for that, I am forever grateful,” Rudd said.