Following USM's loss to Saint Xavier, Coach Jon Bishop took a look around the Saint Mary locker room and saw a lot of hurting faces.
"They're proud guys, and they have huge hearts. And I told them afterwards that 'if it doesn't hurt, it doesn't matter,'" he said. "They were hurting, because it mattered to them. They cared."
Bishop said the 2013 outcome stung a bit less thanks to all of the current squad's earlier accomplishments.
"The year before, we finished second in the (KCAC) tournament, and we finished second in the regular season, so we really hadn’t accomplished anything," he said.
Players (from left) Shiron Williams, Matt Heydman, and Jordan Wilcox take in the closing minutes of the Saint Mary NAIA Tournament game against Saint Xavier.
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"What we’ll take away more from this year than anything else is a sense of accomplishment," Coach Bishop added. "We accomplished something that we set out from day one to do.
"Did it end exactly how we wanted it to after we accomplished that? No. We wold have liked to have won a few more games, I think it would have put a little more icing on the cake, so to speak. But looking back, we won a conference championship. These guys are champions for as long as they live nobody will ever be able to take that away."
Bishop said his team not only represented the program and themselves well, they represented the entirety of Saint Mary and SpireNation well.
"USM can be proud of these guys. They represented the university in a great way each and every day. We never had one issue off the court with any of them, and I think that speaks to how good of kids that they are. If we take anything out of that it’s going to be that we won a converence championship and that’s what we set out to do and we’re very proud of it."
Bishop said his team should cherish the memories from this season.
"After we wrapped up the conference championship — after we beat Ottawa — I told them that this is something that very few college athletes ever experience. It’s something that almost every day for the rest of your life you’ll be able to go back and you’ll have a memory of something from this season. Whether it’s a funny memory, a good memory, a bad memory, a game winning shot. You’ll go back and some memory will pop into your head about this season for the rest of your life.
"And that’s something that they’ll take away and they’ll be able to enjoy forever. Whether its Jordan Wilcox, who’s a player of the year, or whether it’s my four redshirt freshmen. You can talk about wins and losses, and that’s important. But you need to keep in perspective the big picture."
The next focus for the program? Next season.
"We’ve got to get out on the road and bring in a new team. We need some hungry guys," Bishop said. "We’re fortunate to have signed one really good one already.
"My goal is to keep this program — now that we’re finishing on top or one or two in the conference — is to keep it there. And how do we do that? Continue to work and get in the gym and get on the road and bring in kids who are going to play the right way and give us an opportunity to finish one or two in the league next year... we took a little bit of a break and now we’re trying to piece together next year’s team." ■