by Jonas Jacobson ’21 (he/him)
With that shot, there is another ‘Cats 3! Normalcy has been hard to come by this basketball season, but at least the men’s and women’s teams can still rain it down from behind the arc. Fans far and wide have all tried their best to tune in on ESPN+ from the confines of their couches. But, if you have missed out on any of the action along the way, the mid-season update is here just as everything is about to heat up.
The men’s roster features a dynamic three-headed scoring attack of Kellan Grady ‘21, Hyunjung Lee ‘23, and Carter Collins ‘21. Grady and Collins are the senior commanders in a year where experience and leadership is crucial. Always an interior threat, junior Luka Brajkovic ‘22 is also a bully on the boards. Sam Mennenga ‘24 rounds out the starting five, and his fellow freshman and sharpshooter Grant Huffman ‘24 also receives considerable minutes. Notably, guard Mike Jones ‘23 and forwards Nelson Boachie-Yiadom ‘22 and Bates Jones ‘21 can come off the bench and deliver a boost.
The team faced challenges early with the Maui Invitational, which took place in Asheville this past December. They had two chances to take down an experienced Texas roster that has not left the AP Top 25 Poll and nearly came back from behind against Providence. But, instead of leaving empty-handed, the ‘Cats played their final game with determination and beat UNLV convincingly.
Resiliency has become the name of the game this season. After dismantling Georgia Southern, the ‘Cats were unable to take the Hornets’ Nest Trophy away from Charlotte. A possible low point of the season quickly became a turning point. As Head Coach Bob McKillop eloquently stated, the “chance to fold our tent presented itself, but we went out on the road at Rhode Island and we beat them by double digits.”
The triumph over the Rams sparked what has been a very successful Atlantic 10 conference campaign. The play is highlighted by additional road wins over UMass, Duquesne, and La Salle. McKillop added that these “had not been very kind places to us over the last two years. [It] gave me a tremendous sense of optimism and confidence in our guys.”
Impressively, the Duquesne victory was McKillop’s 600th career win. When asked about this milestone, he was quick to thank everyone who has been on the journey and helped him along the way. At this point, Davidson sits at 10-5 overall and 6-2 in the conference, which places the team second in the standings. Though currently on pause, they aim to find a rhythm again when they return. Come March, the team will travel to Richmond for the Atlantic 10 tournament and fight for a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Similar to their counterpart, the women’s team began the season with a non-conference tournament. Beach Bubble, held in Fort Myers, featured some of the nation’s most elite teams and operated as their preseason in many ways. However, to take their 0-3 record from the tournament as an indication of a rough start to the season would be an oversight. The Wildcats gave Final Four contender Maryland, Power Five Wake Forest, and strong mid-major Florida Gulf Coast all they could handle and learned much about themselves.
The roster is headlined by everyone’s favorite headband-donning and four-year starting point guard Katie Turner ‘21, who sets the tempo. One of the most interesting stories has been the breakthrough of junior Chloe Welch ‘22, whose determination has vaulted her into a spot as the team’s leader in points per game. At forward, Cassidy Gould ‘22 is the glue, Sarah Konstans ‘22 offers versatility, and Suzi-Rose Deegan ‘23 is a scoring presence to be reckoned with. Talented lefty Adelaide Fuller ‘23 and athletic Peyton Carter ‘23 have both started in the post. Cameron Tabor ‘23, Kelly Fitzgerald ‘21, and Alana Davidson ‘21 all round out a very deep and experienced roster.
The challenging Beach Bubble propelled the Wildcats to a hot streak which started with wins in their other non-conference matchups against Charleston Southern, Appalachian State, and East Tennessee State. The run continued into Atlantic 10 play with home victories over George Washington and George Mason. Yet, it was quickly halted by tough road matchups against UMass, Rhode Island, and the A10 conference leader Dayton.
Unfortunately, COVID contact tracing from the Dayton matchup sidelined the team for roughly two weeks. Even after a one-game return against Fordham, the Wildcats went on pause again and have only been back for slightly over a week. Recently, injuries and pandemic postponements have become the norm for a team that desperately wants to stop a seven-game losing skid. In order to do so, senior Kelly Fitzgerald claims that the ‘Cats “want to bring back the fun environment and excitedness from the Beach Bubble.”
At the heart of the difficulty has been the game strategies that may need to shift at any moment due to cancellations and rescheduling. Head Coach Gayle Fulks explained that the “most challenging thing about having experience is the disruptions. It hasn’t been as cohesive of a season as you would like. And that’s why we are kind of trying to find our groove right now.” Although the ability to play with little preparation will be beneficial in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, held at VCU this year, there is no doubt that it inhibits momentum.
Both Coach Fulks and Fitzgerald shared the importance of cherishing every game right now due to all the uncertainty. “The seniors are grateful to have the experience because over the summer we doubted whether we would be able to pull off this basketball season,” Fitzgerald said. “We value every single game.”