Just like that, it was over.
Less than 24 hours after the women’s basketball team advanced to the Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinals, Kent State’s hope for an NCAA Tournament bid vanished.
“I had a really great feeling after our win against Buffalo,” sophomore forward Lindsey Thall said. “I felt like we could go really far.”
The MAC semifinals would have been the team’s first appearance since 2010. The Flashes were two wins away from their first NCAA bid since 2002.
“Hope is a powerful thing, and so is belief,” coach Todd Starkey said. “I think we had a lot of hope going into the tournament because we were playing pretty good basketball. At that point, we really believed we could win it.”
The NBA suspended its season in the fourth quarter of Kent State’s quarterfinals game. After the game, rumors about the fate of the MAC and NCAA tournaments started.
“Once we saw that [the NBA season suspension] happened, we as coaches started talking about it,” Starkey said. “It may have been a blessing in disguise that the NBA detected it as early as it did. Otherwise we may have gotten two, three, four days further into things, and it [the virus] may have spread even more exponentially.”
The next morning the Power Five conferences canceled its tournaments and MAC held a press conference to announce the remainder of the tournament was canceled. Five hours later, the NCAA canceled its tournament.
The team had planned to go back to Kent to prepare for Friday’s semifinal game.
“We were actually on the bus on the way back to Kent for recovery when we got the official word,” Starkey said. “So we ended up turning around and going back up to Cleveland to checkout of the hotel and come back to Kent.”
The MAC restricted attendance to the conference tournament, only allowing in players’ families, media and other essential personnel in response to the virus outbreak.
Kent State was the third seed in the tournament, and No. 1 Central Michigan and No. 2 Ball State were upset in the quarterfinals. The Flashes would have played No. 7 Eastern Michigan in the semifinals.
“It definitely left a lot of ‘what ifs,’ and it was hard,” redshirt senior guard Megan Carter said. “We were the highest remaining seed. Everything was kind of set up in our favor.”
For Carter, senior guard Ali Poole and senior forward Sydney Brinlee, their one last chance to win a MAC Championship was gone.
“We were feeling sad, especially for our seniors,” sophomore guard Mariah Modkins said. “Those three seniors gave so much to the program and put in a lot of work for it to end so abruptly.”
“Our coaches always emphasized for us to play for our seniors,” Thall said. “I feel bad for them that they didn’t get to finish their last year out.”
Carter finished her five years on the team with her first win in Cleveland. What would she tell her teammates?
“Go out there and have fun because you never know when your last game is going to be.”
Kent State finished at 19-11 in the regular season, won the MAC East Division and finished third overall in the conference. The Flashes won six of their last eight games going into the tournament and beat Buffalo in the quarterfinals for the first time in three games.
“We all put in so much work since the summer,” Modkins said. “We felt like we were about to do something special and that we finally put the pieces of the puzzle together. For it to just end was a lot of mixed emotions of being sad, upset and disappointed.”
Kathryn Rajnicek is a sports reporter. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.