When fans pack the Harrington Center for basketball games each winter, they can’t help but notice the banners that cover its ceiling to recognize the rich history of Mount St. Joseph University athletics. If you’ve ever played a pickup game in the Auxiliary Gym, you’ve probably even noticed the banner commemorating the 1992 women’s basketball team’s Final Four appearance. Basketball season is right around the corner for the men and women of Mount St. Joseph University, and both teams hope to be the first Mount basketball team to advance as far as the 1992 women in postseason play in a quarter of a century.
This season the women hope to recover from a disappointing campaign last winter, while the men look to build on an incredible 20-win season that ended with heartbreak in the final seconds of the season. I recently discussed the upcoming season with Women’s Head Coach, Dan Benjamin, and Men’s Guard, Jordan Henry.
When asked about the women’s 23-loss season a year ago, Benjamin told me, “We finished well below our expectations. We finished the season with five healthy players and two that played hurt.” The Lions clearly lacked depth last season, but Benjamin believes that in order to fully rebuild the program, the team will also need to “change its attitude and culture.”
The women enter this season with one returning senior and three returning juniors, so Benjamin has spent the past year recruiting heavily to build the future of the program. He told me, “We brought in 14 freshmen and one sophomore,” While this strong freshmen class is sure to change the culture of the team, it also brings a shortage of experience. At the helm of a team that is comprised mostly of freshmen, Benjamin says their greatest “challenge will be learning a new offense with a young group.” Even though on paper, the team may look inexperienced, Benjamin exudes confidence that everything will click at the right time for his players. That time could come this season or even three seasons from now. “If we pick things up fast, it will allow our athletic ability to come into play.” The women begin play on Nov. 11 at the Cintas Center at Xavier University against Hiram College for the Lauren Hill Tipoff Classic.
On the other hand, the men’s basketball team enters the season with more seasoning and fewer question marks. As senior guard and business marketing major, Jordan Henry told me, “Last year, we lost in the championship of the conference tournament and finished 20 and seven. From an outside perspective, we had a pretty great season. We broke the record for regular season wins, but we didn’t reach our goal, which was to win the HCAC tournament.” This goal is a familiar one for the Lions, who in Henry’s first three seasons, have won “one conference tournament and two regular season conference championships.”
As the men prepare for their first game, Henry tells me the team is “touching up on everything, talking more as a team, and buying in to the offense more as a team,” At the same time, he acknowledges that “we are small.” The Lions enter the season after losing two big men to graduation, Holden Hertzel and Bobby Murdock. To make up for the loss in size, Henry says the team will have to “plan harder and help out more on defense. We also have a lot guards, so we plan on using our speed and athleticism in different ways to make up for the big men that we lost,”
What the team lacks in size, they make up for in experience. Henry said, “We’re a veteran team this year. We have five seniors and a few juniors returning. We’ve been to the tournament championship the past two years in a row.” This team has proven time and time again that they can fight all season long and find ways to win. Realistically, Henry told me, “The goal now is to get better every day. We would like to win another conference tournament championship this year, as well as a regular season championship.”
The Lions know they can reach these goals since they’ve reached them before. Just a couple seasons ago, this team held onto a national ranking and even earned a spot in the NCAA tournament, before falling in the first round. “Honestly, in the locker room, we’re all talking about reaching the NCAA Final Four and winning the D3 National Championship.” Will this team become the first one in school history to accomplish this feat? Only time will tell. The men start the season at Bellarmine University on Saturday, Nov. 4, at 7 p.m..
While there are still many questions yet to be answered for both the men and women, the future looks bright for both of the Mount St. Joseph University basketball teams. No matter what the scoreboard has in store for this season, it should be another exciting year of Mount basketball.