The Seton Hill University men’s and women’s basketball teams both clinched playoff seeds and played in the first round of the PSAC Tournament on Monday. The first round was as far as the Griffins would make it this year; Edinboro University won against the women by a score of 82-50, and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown (UPJ) won against the men by a score of 112-53.
“I think that for us, as we say throughout the year, you can’t let one game define you,” said women’s head coach Mark Katarski. “And if our last game happens to be a loss, we can’t let that define what we’ve done. I think we can step back and say that we’ve improved as individuals, we’ve improved as a team and that we represented our university in a positive way.”
The women clinched the fifth seed in the PSAC West by winning their final regular season game, making the playoffs for the fourth year in a row. The Griffins were defeated in the first round of the PSAC Tournament last season by Gannon University.
“I think that all of our goals are to win a playoff game, so if we lose, I think we’ll be pretty disappointed,” said senior guard Mariah Wells before the game. “That’s what happens at first, but once you take a step back, I feel like we’ll realize how much we’ve accomplished.”
The women finished their season with a record of 16-13 overall and 12-10 in conference play.
“We had some wonderful wins against some really good teams, and some losses that we may think differently about, but I think that we are where we should be,” Katarski said. “We made our playoffs for the fourth year in a row, which less than half the teams in our conference have done, so that’s an accomplishment. We were also able to finish with a winning record overall in the regular season and a winning record in our conference, which are two good accomplishments as well.”
Along with Wells, the seniors on the women’s team this year include Alexandria Deep, Kinross Obiefule and Maggie McLoughlin. Katarski said the team had “amazing experiences” this year, traveling to places like New York City and Philadelphia.
“It’s been an enjoyable group to see every day,” Katarski said. “I think that because of the diversity our group has, and the uniqueness and personalities and backgrounds, that we were able to have an enriching experience overall.”
An accomplishment that is memorable to Wells is when her team was awarded the PSAC Top Team GPA Award for the third straight season last year. The team also placed third in the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Division II Academic Top 25 Honor Roll. Their GPA was ranked the fourth highest of all NCAA institutions, which includes teams from all three divisions.
“For my team, I just feel like this is one of the better seasons that we’ve had for the four years that I’ve been here,” Wells said. “I just feel like we’re more of a team, we all want to reach the same goals, we expect more out of each other.”
While the women knew before the end of the regular season that they made the playoffs, the men had to wait until Saturday to find out if they would advance. California University of Pennsylvania’s loss allowed SHU to clinch the sixth and final playoff spot in the PSAC West. Their game was a rematch of last year, where UPJ emerged victorious against the Griffins in the first round of the tournament.
“We’ve reached the goals that we wanted to reach,” said senior forward Noah Davis. “Overall we would’ve liked some more wins, but overall we should not be disappointed in the season.”
The men finished the season with a record of 11-16 overall and 8-14 in conference play.
“We did not have the consistency that I thought we were going to have, but I’m pleased,” said men’s head coach Tony Morocco. “This is a great group of kids, and we got most of them back for next year. We played everybody, we were tough and we were more than competitive.”
Davis reached a milestone this season by scoring his 1,000th career point on Jan. 3 against Edinboro. In the same game, his brother Nathan set a new school record for most points in a single game with 37. Playing with his brother for one year in college is something Noah said he will never forget.
“That’s just been the most special thing that I’ve been able to do in my athletic career,” Davis said. “To play at this level together, and to succeed together at this high level, is something I will always remember. I love him so much.”
Along with Davis, other seniors on the men’s team this year include Damjan Sredanovic, Zach Herman and Manny Joshua, who Morocco said are “diamonds.” Davis said this team is the “best group of guys we’ve had together.”
“We’ve got terrific people with very, very good character,” Morocco said. “They’re excellent in the classroom, on the campus, on the court. I’m sorry to see the seniors go; I love those kids. We’re very fortunate to work at a great university and have kids of this caliber.”
Although her time at SHU is winding down, Wells said she has learned skills from being a student-athlete that she can apply to being a physical therapist in the future. Katarski said being a part of the community is also a priority for the team to build relationships and represent the university in a positive way.
“They’ve become members of a greater cause and part of something bigger than just basketball players, and I think that’s a great accomplishment for them,” Katarski said. “I think for our players, it’s good reminders for them that basketball can be a vehicle to really broaden themselves and develop relationships that extend beyond.”
Davis added he has been proud to wear Seton Hill on his jersey and represent the university. Morocco said being a student-athlete is one of the “greatest teachers” for learning life skills.
“When you’re an athlete and you play a sport, you’re learning to compete on a daily basis,” Morocco said. “You’re learning that if you stay the same, you don’t get better. Sports really gives you a great foundation to be successful as a person and in life.”