By Chris Pennell
What every basketball team strives for at the beginning of the season is to be on the top step of the ladder, cutting down the net, piece by piece, knowing at the end of the day they are champions. This past weekend at the East Coast Conference Championships, St. Thomas Aquinas College men’s and women’s basketball teams were able to share that experience together up in Rochester NY, as they both took home the ECC title. Championship Sunday is a day both teams will never forget as they were able to make history for a small school from Sparkill NY.
In 2017, the Lady Spartans fell to Molloy College in the semi-finals of the ECC Championship. With a majority of the team returning, Coach Lusk and the rest of her players knew they had a real shot at making it back to the ECC tournament and this time taking care of some unfinished business. And that is exactly what they did in 2018. Finishing the season at an astounding 26-4 record (16-2 in conference), the Lady Spartans were granted the #2 seed in the ECC conference tournament, earning a first round bye. In the semi final round, the Lady Spartans defeated Roberts Wesleyan University 68-52. With that win, the Lady Spartans punched their ticket to Championship Sunday.
The Lady Spartans defeated NYIT in the ECC Championship game with a final score of 53-40, making them the first STAC women’s basketball team to bring home the trophy to Sparkill. The team had this goal set in stone in their minds since the beginning of the year and knew they could make history if they all came together. “We are very excited to be the first STAC women’s team to win the ECC Championship” said head coach Kim Lusk. “They are a special group of young women who have really come together and earned the success they’ve had.”
The Lady Spartans will advance to the NCAA D2 East Regional as the #4 seed and take on #5 seed, Caldwell University, a team they have beaten earlier in the season 86-54. Although the Lady Spartans came out victorious in their first matchup, Coach Lusk knows to never take any team lightly especially come playoff time. “ They are a much better team than they played on that particular day. I am expecting an exciting game which we will be fully prepared for.” The Lady Spartans look to continue their hot streak and make a run in the East Regional tournament.
Shortly after the Lady Spartans hoisted the ECC Championship trophy, Coach Tobin Anderson and his team knew it was their turn to take care of business. The Spartans are coming off back-to-back ECC Championships and hoped to make it a three-peat come championship Sunday.
The Spartans finished 26-6 (15-3 in conference) and were also granted a first round bye. The Spartans faced a tough challenge in the ECC title game as they matched up against the University of Bridgeport, a team they have lost to twice this regular season. However, Coach Tobin Anderson and his team never back down from a challenge. The Spartans changed their game plan the third time around and were able to top the Purple Knights 82-65 capturing their third straight ECC championship. “We had a very good week of practice and preparation and that was the biggest key to our success,” said coach Anderson. “They are very explosive in transition so we tried to slow them down and really guard them in the half court.”
The Spartans are headed back up to Syracuse for the NCAA D2 East Regionals. For the second straight year, the East Regional is being held at Le Moyne College, a place where the Spartans have had a lot of success. The Spartans won the East Regional last year which punched them a ticket to the NCAA Elite Eight. However, Coach Anderson knows it will not be an easy ride. “In March, it truly is survive and advance. We just want to find a way to win Saturday, get to Sunday, and than do the same.” The #2 seeded Spartans will face #7 seeded Bloomfield in round one of the East Regional in hopes to defend their 2017 title.
After such a special day for STAC basketball, Coach Anderson and Coach Lusk cannot be more pleased with both programs and cant explain what these championships mean to St. Thomas Aquinas College. “Success begets success,” said coach Anderson. “And the better all of our STAC teams do, the more it helps our entire athletic department and our college.” Coach Lusk too believes the program and the overall morale of the college can only go up from here. “Winning improves recruiting and gets the school a great deal of positive recognition. Having both teams cutting down the nets last weekend was very exciting and very special.”