WATERTOWN, Wis. -- After they finished in third place in the NCCAA DII last season, the motto for the Sabercats Women's Basketball Team became "unfinished business". They printed those two emotionally charged words on their practice jerseys as a daily reminder of the goal for 2020: to get back to Nationals and not lose a game.
They took that goal seriously. By the end of the season, they had secured the regional championship and the best overall record in program history as a bonus.
They went back to Nationals.
And they didn't lose a game.
But the business is still unfinished.
After their first-round win over Champion Christian, the Sabercats were slated to take on Grace Christian for a ticket to the national championship. But the day before the semifinal, the NCCAA announced the cancellation of the rest of the tournament due to the outbreak of coronavirus. That was it. It was over.
"Coach Mo came into the lobby and all he said was, 'We're done,'" said senior Karley Johnson. "I felt so many emotions when he broke this news to us. Kels [Kelsey Johnson] and I cried for a long time. I'll never forget that day."
"I initially felt devastated and shocked," Kelsey said. "My career, the dream of winning nationals, being with my team, was all over because of one decision. I was just overwhelmed and very sad. We wanted to finish by beating our opponents, and we knew we could do it."
It was all going right for the twins and the team. Their record of 20-3 was the best winning percentage in the history of the program, and they had etched their season all over the place in the program record books. They went into Nationals with the exciting momentum of a five-game winning streak and the lingering memory of last year's semifinal loss to Arlington. They were ready to prove that they had learned their lesson. They were ready to show that this was their year.
They'll never know if it was.
"Hearing news like that... you just can't put it into words - it's so unprecedented," said Coach Clayton Morrison. "As soon as I told [Assistant Coach Clayton Morrison IV], his first words were, 'How do we break it to the seniors?' As soon as we shared it with the team, the news crushed them. Hearing that they had already played in their final minutes and they were being deprived of the emotional excitement which leads up to your final game, their dream could no longer become reality. They wouldn't play another game.
"There were four teams left. Each team believed it was their year to win the championship, and rightfully so. Unfortunately, no one will ever know how those final games would have ended. We're all left wondering what would have happened."
The Sabercats were just one of three teams in the NCCAA DII that went undefeated in NCCAA play on the season, and they boasted the best defense in the country. Their home record was 10-1 and they highlighted an already-outstanding season with an eight-game winning streak in the middle of the season.
This group was something special, climbing into the single-season record books some 18 times on both a team and an individual level:
|Team: Season||Mark||Rank: Season|
|Scoring Margin||+15.1 PPG||1st|
|REB Margin||+9.5 RPG||1st|
|Scoring Defense||52.2 PPG||3rd|
Seniors Karley and Kelsey Johnson were exceptional, combining for 18 career top-10 entries of their own:
*Ball control totals (rebounds, assists, etc.) were tracked beginning in 2000.
The National Christian College Athletic Association released the NCCAA North Region selections during the weekend of the regional tournaments, and the All-America selections at the National Tournament. Callie and Coach Mo highlighted the selections:
|Clayton Morrison||North Region Coach of the Year|
|Callie Morrison||North Region 1st Team|
|Callie Morrison||NCCAA All-America 1st Team|
|Karley Johnson||North Region 2nd Team|
|Kelsey Johnson||North Region 2nd Team|
Kelsey Johnson made Maranatha history by becoming the first Maranatha student-athlete to earn the NCCAA Game Plan 4 LIFE Character Award twice in the same season. Kelsey earned the award for Sabercats Women's Volleyball and followed it up with the selection for Women's Basketball. The award is given based on the student-athlete's leadership ability, playing skill, and Christlike character qualities like Love, Integrity, Faith, and Excellence.
Losing three seniors will be something the team will have to work hard to counter next season. But with the ending of the last two seasons in mind, one thing is sure: next year's motto remains "unfinished business".
"[The team] finished with excellence both on and off the court," Coach Mo added. "When they heard the news, they quickly realized there was a bigger need at that time than themselves. The focus of the underclassman immediately turned towards the seniors. As the coach, I could not have been more proud of our team. We had a special year, the chemistry and genuine friendship amongst every team member grew as the season progressed. Here at this moment, they displayed the character and sense of family that went far beyond the game itself. As their coaching staff, loved ones, and Maranatha family, we say 'well done, team.'"