SJU Magazine, Spring 2014 | Athletics

And We Danced

How a remarkable season had men’s and women’s basketball feeling the love.

by Jeff Martin '04, '05 (M.A.)

“The Hawk Will Never Die!”

It’s chanted at the end of every basketball game, win or lose. It’s the most well-known saying on campus. In 2003, Sports Illustrated called it “the most defiant cheer in college sports.”

But what does “The Hawk Will Never Die” really mean?

This year, Hawk Hoops lived the motto to its fullest, as, for just the third time in school history, both the men’s and women’s basketball teams made it to their respective NCAA Tournaments in the same season. The men’s team earned an automatic bid after defeating Virginia Commonwealth to win the Atlantic 10 Championship — the program’s third A-10 win overall and first in 17 years. The women’s team was selected for an at-large spot in the tournament, based on the strength of its 21-8 regular season.

But the path to the postseason wasn’t easy.

“We weren’t playing our best basketball early on,” says junior guard Chris Wilson, after a loss to Villanova in December dropped the Hawks to 4-4. “But we knew that, as long as we looked out for each other, we could right the ship.”

And right it they did. The team won 17 of its next 20 games and entered the conference tournament as the No. 4 seed. When the final buzzer sounded on the day of the league’s championship game, the Hawks stood alone.

Five seniors led the squad, including three starters: guard Langston Galloway and forwards Halil Kanacevic and Ronald Roberts Jr. They had one goal in mind: to win.

“Our seniors had a singular focus, and they accomplished it,” says head coach Phil Martelli. “And they’ll be remembered for that, because championships are forever.”

The league championship earned the Hawks a spot as a No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they faced No. 7 seed Connecticut on March 20 in Buffalo, N.Y. The team put on one of its finest performances of the year but fell in overtime, 89-81. The Huskies rolled through the rest of the tournament, winning the championship without facing a challenge like they did in the Hawks.

Despite the loss, Galloway smiles as he reflects on the year.

“We showed our fans and everyone around the country that you can’t count a team out early in the year,” Galloway says. “We’d have loved to play one more game, but we’re very satisfied with how the season went.”

The women’s team started its year as defending A-10 champions and boasted three returning seniors: guard Erin Shields and forwards Ilze Gotfrida and Kelsey Berger. The team played well all season, winning the Big 5 and consistently ranking in the top half of a tightly contested Atlantic 10. But two losses in their last three games left the women as the fifth seed in the conference tournament.

Despite losing to George Washington in the quarterfinals, the Hawks found themselves a No. 9 seed when the NCAA Tournament pairings were revealed. They defeated No. 8 seed Georgia in the first round for the program’s first NCAA victory since 2000. Then, in an interesting twist of fate, SJU earned a matchup with the school that had beaten the men just days prior: Connecticut.

Like the men’s team, the women fell to the Huskies, who would go on to become national champions. But ending the season with a loss did little to lessen the team’s impact.

“I think our group of seniors will be remembered as players who helped take this team to the next level,” says Shields. “I hope we will be remembered for our hard work, and most important, for the people and teammates we were during our time here.”

Head coach Cindy Griffin ’91, ’93 (M.B.A.) adds, “Earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament is no easy feat. This team will be remembered for its scoring ability and a strong performance in the first round of the tournament.”

In Buffalo on March 20 and in Storrs five days later, as each team’s final game and season were winding down, a familiar sound rose from the Saint Joseph’s fans. It’s a sound that says, no matter what the scoreboard shows at the end of the day, our teams will persevere.

“The Hawk Will Never Die!”

Since attending his first Hawks game at the age of 13, Jeff Martin has attended every men’s NCAA Tournament appearance and logged nearly 25,000 miles following the team around the country. Martin is SJU’s senior associate director of web communications.

Langston Galloway and Halil Kanacevic celebrate the Hawk's A10 Win

Langston Galloway (#10) and Halil Kanacevic (#45) celebrate the Hawks' Atlantic 10 Tournament win.