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Photo credit: Micah Herbster
Photo credit: Micah Herbster

Business Still Unfinished

JOPLIN, Mo. -- "Unfinished business."

Ask anyone on the last three Maranatha Women's Basketball teams what that means, and you'll probably get a similar response. It'll be something along the lines of unmet expectations, postseason heartbreak, and for some of these college athletes, dreams that will never be more than just dreams.

And while responses may vary in intensity or impact, they will probably have overtones of injustice.

Because in each of the last two seasons, Maranatha has had its postseason hopes crushed at the NCCAA Final Four. And it wasn't like they were simply outplayed by a dominant opponent - each time, "other factors" seemed to stack against them in such a way that a national title seemed so elusive, it was practically predetermined.

This is the brief story of the last two seasons of postseason heartbreak, unmet expectations, and dreams. The three things that complete the "unfinished business."

In 2019, the Sabercats were neck and neck with Arlington Baptist in the National Semifinal. Maranatha had momentum and was chasing the upset over the heavy favorite, but some foul calls went against them at just the wrong time. Just when the game was hanging in the balance, the pendulum swung for Arlington and the final score ultimately followed suit.

That loss kept them from competing for a national title. And so that game inspired a new team motto of "unfinished business" - a motto that they even printed on their practice jerseys for the following season. During a preseason "pep rally" of sorts, the captains showed the jerseys to everyone in the gym and stated their intentions of finishing the national tournament without losing a game.

In 2020, they were on track to do just that. Not only did they have the best winning percentage in program history going into the tournament, but they also had momentum and belief. Belief fueled by last year's felt injustice. Belief in their ability. And belief in the collective sense that this was "their year" to win it. All of that belief helped them win Regionals and go back to Nationals.

And they didn't lose a game.

But the business is still unfinished.

After the first round was already completed, Ozark Christian College - like practically everyone else in the country - closed their campus on March 12 due to concerns of the coronavirus outbreak. The NCCAA had no choice but to cancel the tournament. Just like that, all the momentum of the season, the significance of the practice jerseys, and the context of the 2020 season and its records seemed to matter for nothing.

It was over.

"I felt so many emotions when [Coach Clayton Morrison] broke this news to us," senior Karley Johnson said at the time. "[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."

Every college athlete dreams of going out with a national championship. It would be satisfying in itself and it would give a sense of completion. A sense of finished work. Not only would you prepare mentally for your final game, but you would also be rewarded with the win and the title. Either way, you want closure - a feeling that the outcome of the game is what it should have been, and that you had some satisfaction in the way you finished your career.

If anything described above is missing, the business is still unfinished.

So in 2021, the Sabercats have an eye on the banner and a mindset of finishing what began two years ago. As the draw determined, the Sabercats are slated to take on Grace Christian in the tournament opener - it's the same matchup that was supposed to happen in 2020. 

But it never did.

At 2:00 p.m. Central today, the Sabercats begin their attempt to complete a difficult season, win a national title, and above all, finish the business.