Shortly after the Webster University men’s basketball team’s shocking loss to Blackburn College, The Journal’s…
The Sporting Insider: A Chance to History
Immediately after the men’s basketball team’s impressive 64-47 win over Westminster in the SLIAC tournament championship game, players from the women’s team joined the men at center court of the Grant Gymnasium to celebrate the basketball program’s sweep of the Blue Jays.
It was an iconic moment in Webster athletics history, and players from both NCAA tournament-bound teams will be able to cherish that moment forever. There were a few other special moments during the men’s game that stuck out to me:
• As the teams converged on the court, men’s coach Chris Bunch and women’s coach Jordan Olufson hugged each other. This moment summed up the basketball season; both coaches have done an exceptional job with their teams. Olufson leading his squad in their upset of Westminster was especially awe-inspiring.
• During most of the second half, Athletics Director Tom Hart anxiously paced the sideline behind the teams’ benches. It was obvious that earning two championships on the same day meant a lot to Hart.
• When the All-Tournament team was announced, the crowd went berserk for Robby Meeh and Willie Trimble, who was named the tournament’s MVP. The full-capacity crowd of 600 played a massive role in Webster’s win. It was great to see the Webster faithful come out for such a critical game.
But as Webster coach Chris Bunch has told his team countless times this season, the time to ignore the past and focus on the present is now. The men and women have a crucial week of practice before they head to Illinois to face top-flight basketball programs.
The men’s team has the opportunity to achieve a SLIAC first if they can pull off the upset in their March 4 game against 24-3 powerhouse Augustana College: not only has the Webster men’s basketball program never won a national tournament postseason game, but the entire SLIAC is still searching for its first NCAA championship victory. Bunch is ready to make history.
“I’ve always wanted to have the shot at being the team that gets the first win,” Bunch said. “Anywhere we were going to go, we were going to play some tough team. They’re all tough at this point, so you’ve got to do the things that you do well and execute. I’m really excited about our chances.”
The Gorloks will have their hands full as they prepare to take on an Augustana team that is ranked No. 1 in the Midwest region and No. 6 in the nation by www.D3hoops.com. The Vikings have reached the Final Four of the national tournament four times, finishing second twice and third twice.
Augustana’s biggest advantage will be its size. The Vikings’ top two scorers are 6-foot-9-inch forwards Kyle Nelson (14.1 points per game) and Bryant Voiles (11.9 ppg). Augustana out-rebounds its opponents by a margin of eight boards a game, good for 11th in the NCAA.
Webster will try to neutralize the Vikings’ size by playing a zone that rattled Westminster in the SLIAC championship. But the Gorloks’ lack of height (6-foot-5-inch Jarrod Huskey, 6-foot-3-inch Drew Moore and 6-foot-3-inch Meeh do most of the dirty work in the paint) may be too much to overcome.
Webster is going to have to hope that, like Westminster, Augustana will shoot poorly. If the Vikings start off hot from the field and their fans rally behind them early, it’s going to be a long game for the Gorloks.
Webster and Augustana have met up as recently as 2007, when Webster’s “other” 20-win team fell to the 23-6 Vikings 82-69 in Bloomington, Illinois. Although most will expect a similar result, if Webster plays like they did in the second half of the Westminster game, they will make history for the program and the SLIAC.