Just like that, the Taylor University women’s basketball team’s season was over.
On March 11, the seventh-ranked and second-seeded Trojans edged seventh-seeded Union 68-66 in the opening round of the NAIA Division II National Tournament in Sioux City, Iowa.
That advanced them to the Round of 16 to face No. 9 and third-seeded Indiana Tech on March 13.
The day before, though, the NAIA announced the cancellation of all remaining winter championship events, including the women’s basketball tournament, because of concerns with the coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic.
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Taylor concluded its historic season with 30 wins for the second straight year, including winning a national tournament opening game for the third year in a row.
While Seymour native Lauren James was a redshirt sophomore and didn’t play this season because of an injury, she cheered for her teammates from the sidelines and was just as disappointed with the ending as they were.
The night of the Trojans’ win, the NAIA announced only friends and family would be allowed to enter the arena to watch games.
Then when the tournament was canceled around noon March 12, a game that was being played was stopped.
"Honestly, I was shocked and very disappointed," James said. "I wasn’t surprised when they announced they would only allow family and friends to attend, but I really thought we would be able to finish the tournament since everyone was already there. Just the day before, there was an opening ceremony where everyone — teams, coaches, family, friends, staff, etc — was in the arena at one time."
The Trojans had arrived at a gym to practice when they learned about the cancellation.
"We were all in shock, and lots of tears were shed by many of the players," James said. "My coach explained how it was out of our control. We couldn’t do anything about it. He reminded us to remain positive and count our blessings. He pointed out that the seniors ended their careers on a win, which most seniors don’t get to do."
She said the coach also explained that everything happens for a reason, and as Christians, they are to trust God no matter what, especially when they don’t understand.
"I was just so sad for our seniors," James said. "We all wanted to make a deep run in the tournament for them. We knew we were capable of making a deep run, too. They ended their careers as the winningest class in Taylor women’s basketball history and led our team to 30-4, the best record of any team in Taylor’s history."
The team agreed to practice and leave on a positive note.
"We blared music and ran some fun drills, which was great, but the best part was we were able to spend time on the court together one last time," James said.
Still, having the tournament and season cut short was devastating.
"I think this was the hardest pill to swallow for us. It kind of felt like we had the rug pulled from underneath us," James said.
"It’s easy to wonder how things would have turned out, and we’ll never know what this team could have done, but again, it was out of our control, and we just tried to focus on our attitudes and how we handled the situation," she said. "If this is the worst thing that happens to us in our lives, then we’re going to live pretty good lives."
The way the season ended is just extra motivation to get back next season, James said.
"The underclassmen all agreed that we wanted to get back to the tournament next year and finish what the seniors started," she said.
"With classes going online for the rest of the semester, the returners won’t have the opportunity to have postseason workouts," she said. "This will be a big adjustment, but it mainly means that every person has to be very disciplined individually to get better every day to work toward being the best we can next season."
Originally, the plan was for students to return to the campus in Upland after Easter. The school later announced all classes will be online.
"I love Taylor and was really hoping we would be able to return to campus," James said. "It sucks, but it’s out of my control, and I’ll have to learn to adjust quickly to online classes and basketball workouts at home. I’m taking four classes right now, all major classes — mathematics, computer science — so between that and working out, I’m sure I’ll stay busy."
James planned to stay on campus to work out in the gym and do rehabilitation workouts in Fort Wayne, but both ended up closing, so she returned home to Seymour.
"In the meantime, I’ll be doing what I normally do on campus — work out and study," she said. "It will look a little different now that I am home, but there are no excuses to get better. I just have to get a little creative on my workouts. It will also be my responsibility as an upperclassman to keep the underclassmen accountable. I have to help them in any way I can and make sure they are staying disciplined and doing their part."
James said she’s not sure if the NAIA will offer an extra year of eligibility to athletes, but since she tore her ACL last summer and redshirted this season, she will be taking a fifth year anyway.
She hopes to see things return to normal for the 2020-21 season.
"I’m just excited to start playing again period," she said. "Redshirting this season has given me a whole new appreciation and love for the game. I just can’t wait to get back with my teammates and build off the success this past year’s team had. I really like the players that are returning next season and believe that we can make some noise."