Here is the fourth installment of a series that checks in with the seven Division I programs in the state to give a glimpse into the past and the future. Teams are scheduled to appear according to the chronological order in which their seasons ended. Wednesday’s visit was with UMBC. Thursday’s visit is with Mount St. Mary’s.
The good: The Mountaineers nearly achieved the dubious feat of being the first reigning Northeast Conference tournament champion to fail to qualify for the following tournament. But Mount St. Mary’s rebounded from a 0-3 start in the league to beat Sacred Heart and Wagner, finish in fourth place, and earn a berth in the NEC tournament. “They knew that they still had it in them to get to the playoffs,” coach Tom Gravante said of the players. “Even at 0-3 in the conference – which was definitely not expected – they never quit, and that is probably one of the biggest positives of the season. As a coach, that’s as much as you can ask for from your kids.” … As the fourth seed in the league tournament, the Mountaineers drew a rematch with top-seeded Robert Morris, which had won the regular-season meeting, 17-14, on April 14. But rather than be intimidated by the pairing, the players were eager to make amends and did so with a 16-15 decision in overtime. “We wanted that matchup, and I think our kids wanted that matchup because they knew they had it in them to beat this team,” said Gravante, whose team trailed 8-3 with 5:51 left in second quarter. “… It was like watching our guys go, ‘OK, that’s it. Now you guys are really going to get it.’ They rolled up their sleeves and went to work, and by halftime, it was 8-6. They never quit. … We went toe-to-toe with them, and I’m very proud of my guys and how they handled that.” … The campaign got off to a huge start on Feb. 25 when Mount St. Mary’s opened with a 12-10 victory over Delaware, the preseason favorite to win the competitive Colonial Athletic Association. “I don’t want to say that it was unexpected,” Gravante said. “We were hoping as a staff that we would compete that day, and obviously, these guys did better than that. They got out with the 'W.' At the start of the season, we were very excited about these young men and what abilities would continue to develop after they knocked off the 19th-ranked team in the country.”