By Delaney Major
The men’s basketball team created program history by winning their first Great Midwest Athletic Conference (GMAC) championship on March 6, 2021, against Cedarville University. The game was held at a neutral site in Hillsdale, Michigan. The Malone Pioneers defeated the Cedarville Yellow Jackets with a final score of 77-59.
“We trust each other on the court and that’s a huge thing,” Jaret Majestic, senior guard, said. “I think early in the season we started zero to four [because] we didn’t really trust each other … Towards the end of the year we got it figured out, and that was the main part of how we were able to get things done.”
The trust between teammates allowed the team to come together and conquer the GMAC championship. However, there have been many obstacles that the team has overcome over this season due to COVID-19. Several times players had to quarantine, prohibiting them from attending practices.
“We had seven weeks of quarantine at the beginning of the school year, and we have had a number of guys that have been out a good chunk of the season,” Casey Kaufman, head men’s basketball coach, said. “The guys didn’t make a huge deal about it, as other teams were dealing with the same situation. Yet, this really affected chemistry and I think that was a big reason for the slow start, but … this [victory] has been years in the making.”
The team did not stop with winning the GMAC championship, as they moved on to the Atlantic Regional tournament on March 13 at Western Liberty University.
“In order to stay motivated, we must not be complacent and realize where we came from,” Justin Miller, redshirt (or athlete who is spending the academic year improving their skills in practice instead of actively competing during games) junior forward/guard, said. “We need to want to play harder.”
The games themselves have also changed due to COVID-19, including the number of spectators allowed at events. Each game’s location has different rules regarding audience attendance. Some venues have limited capacity, while others don’t allow fans at all. This has caused a different environment for the players, leaving would-be attendees needing to find new ways to support the team.
“The biggest difference in our games this year is definitely the crowds,” Majestic said. “We normally get a lot of students. The tournament games and Walsh games would have been packed. I like playing for bigger crowds, so there has definitely been a different feel this year … At home games, we would get a lot of energy from the crowd, but with limited people we had to make sure we were bringing our own [energy].”
In order for fans to be able to watch the team, each game has been live streamed so anyone can watch from anywhere. Many students took advantage of this opportunity in order to show their support.
“I was sad to not be [at the games] live, but as I was watching virtually with some friends, we were cheering as if we were really there!” Gwen Gelofsack, senior communication arts major, said.
The support that students have shown to the men’s basketball team has been immense, making them feel loved as they make program history. They have received endless texts, emails and positive affirmations from the Malone campus. The women’s soccer team sent a video offering their support.
“Since there is limited seating, watch online,” Tanya Hockman, interim athletic director, said. “This generation knows how to use social media in creative and fun ways, so use social media to send messages of congratulations and support. We will see each other on campus, so give them a high-five or a fist bump — and properly sanitize after.”
“Success is not an accident, and the success that the team is experiencing is the result of years of planning and hard work from the top down,” Hockman said. “Right now, we are celebrating what has taken years to build and I am very excited because I have watched a lot of these men taking the extra time to make themselves better which in return makes the team better. I hope the guys enjoy every moment of it.”
Malone University joined the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II in the 2013-2014 season. Many teams have led up to this victory. Consistent practice and growth of the program as a whole have been key players in arriving at this championship win.