The Spartans held first place in the conference until the Tritons defeated them 76-69, and captured the second Sunshine State Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament Championship in program history.
Making it to conference finals was a goal both the team and coaches said they knew they could accomplish, even though they only had nine players on the roster.
“I think the most important factor to making it to the finals this year has been meeting adversity with confidence, particularly on the court during games. We have won in a number of different ways, including several overtime and double overtime contests. Those are the games that can go either way and you have to overcome some doubt and know you are going to win,” Paul Honsinger said.
To start off the postseason playoffs Eckerd overcame an offensive attack from No. 7 Rollins College, beating them 87-80 in double overtime which took them to semifinals.
The Tritons held a strong lead with a semifinal score of 74-60 against No. 3 Florida Southern College. On March 8, the women’s basketball team hit the road to play in the conference finals against the University of Tampa.
This was the fourth straight year that the women’s basketball team played in the NCAA tournament and the fifth time in six years that head coach Paul Honsinger will appear in the tournament. Honsinger began to coach the program to the national tournament in the 2014-2015 season.
“In the beginning of the year we knew we had enough talent to make it to the finals, but we also knew that we had to address some team weaknesses before that could become a reality,” Honsinger said.
Basketball is played with five players on the court at a time per team. Having only nine players on the roster was an obstacle the team had to overcome when practicing, especially in games.
“We knew we had to stay healthy and pay extra attention to our bodies with just nine players on the roster. I think this team has done an excellent job taking ownership of their weaknesses and improving them throughout the year to put us in contention for a championship,” Honsinger said.
The team focused on meeting adversity with confidence and keeping high energy this season. It showed in matches such as the conference semifinals against Florida Southern, when senior Octavia Loll drilled an unbelievable three-pointer to force double overtime. They went on to win the game, which sophomore Maya Price described as the most memorable moment of the season thus far.
“We had great energy throughout that game, and it showed our grit and determination to keep going which I think was really important for us,” Price said.
Although the small roster has its downsides, it has made the team a lot closer, maintaining a family-like culture.
“Having nine players has been a challenge but this team has been terrific managing the intensity of our practice sessions and keeping our atmosphere in practice competitive,” Honsinger said.
The players also credit their success to the close dynamic that comes with being part of the program. Price described how they always hold each other accountable and push each other to make themselves better, as well as having each other’s back and support.
“I came into this year as a new player to the team and I really wanted to make an impact straight away, and I feel like I have been able to do that. Playing against Zoey in practice and learning from her has been so helpful to me and has helped me to develop as a player,” Price said of Zoey Richards, a senior who transferred as a sophomore and has been part of the team for three years.
The team approached this successful season in a similar way to the past six years.
“We ask our players to commit to the pre-existing culture- stay positive with each other, make the appropriate sacrifices for their team and give us their best effort at all times on the court and in the classroom,” Honsinger said.
The team’s current record is 24-5 and the team GPA this fall was 3.71.
After Sunday’s win, the Tritons earned the No. 5 seed in the South Region and will move on to the first round of the NCAA tournament with their first game against third-seed Delta State of Mississippi at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. The tournament is hosted by top-seeded Lee (Tenn.) at Paul Dana Walker Arena.