By CJ DONALD – COLUMNIST
Looking back on the (nearly) four years I have spent in Danville, I have realized that it would be hard to separate my experience as a Centre College student from my experience as an individual involved with Centre Athletics.
Beyond the sportswriting that I have been blessed to do for this paper, my sports involvement at Centre has ranged from team manager for Centre Men’s Lacrosse, super fan for varsity basketball, and, this spring, in-stadium voice for Centre Women’s Lacrosse.
With just three weeks to go until Mother Centre sends me out into the real world, I thought it proper to recap my favorite Centre sports memories authored by the class of 2014.
One: The fastest sport on two feet comes to Centre.
In 2011, the College welcomed lacrosse as an intercollegiate varsity sport for both men and women.
At that time, the spring sport had begun to take root in high schools across the Bible Belt, evidenced by the 29 Kentucky and Tennessee athletes on the women’s and men’s rosters at the beginning of the season.
The Centre Women’s Lacrosse team started their first year under the instruction of Head Coach Julie Beer and Assistant Coach Jessica Chisley. In just their first season of competition, CWL amassed a 11-6 record.
Two members of the 2014 graduating class – Meg Hawthorne and Sarah Mastey – led the team in scoring with 73 and 75 goals respectively. The Colonels got quality wins over SCAC opponents Birmingham Southern and Millsaps.
When Centre Men’s Lacrosse took the field, they did so under the leadership of Head Coach J.E. Bert Severns and Assistant Coach Reed Peterson.
The recruiting class that Severns and Peterson brought to the College consisted of 18 first-year students and one sophomore and junior transfer each. CML opened their inaugural season with an 18-1 win over Hanover.
The Colonels were led in scoring by current seniors Zack Connors (33 goals) and Connor Stubbs (26 goals).
Clayton Brown, also a member of the class of 2014, spent all 780 minutes in the goal for the Colonels and saved 171 shots.
Two: Basketball 2014 – Centre Men’s Basketball beats LaGrange and a young Centre Women’s Basketball team advances to the championship game of the SAA tournament.
In the 2012-2013 season, Centre Women’s Basketball played the second toughest non-conference schedule in all of Division III. Because of those out-of-conference battles, CWB was able to endure the trek through their SAA schedule with only two losses in fourteen games.
That season, the Colonels were carried by 2013 Centre graduates Bridget Winstead, Chelsea Benham, and Jenna Mire. As they took the court this past fall, the Colonels were guided by a frontcourt of two seniors: Paige Baechle and Mary Gordon Stough.
However, the majority of the members on the 2013-2014 squad were first-year or sophomore student-athletes.
So, with an even tougher 2013-2014 schedule, it was fantastic that CWB made it to the championship game of the SAA Tournament against Rhodes College. Baechle, who was second in the conference in scoring and rebounding, was named First Team All-SAA. Stough, juniors Alanna Guy and Maggie Hartlage and sophomore Alexis Guy were named Honorable Mention All-SAA players.
The Centre Men’s Basketball team started the 2013-2014 campaign ranked 23rd nationally in d3hoops.com Divison III poll.
In the inaugural season of the SAA, the team won the regular season and tournament championship trophies and made a trip to the NCAA tournament.
With that history in mind, CMB was certainly expected to ride the backs of seniors Donovan Whiteside and Collin Lopez and junior Josh Karsner into the NCAA Tournament.
The Colonels did just that and earned a NCAA First Round home game against the LaGrange Panthers. In what was the most exciting second half they played all year, the Colonels capitalized on a two-point lead at half-time to beat the Panthers in the final minute of the game behind strong play from Karsner, Lopez, and Whiteside.
With 4:19 left to play, Whiteside made two free throws to help the Colonels take a one-point lead. From there, CMB never looked back. After a layup by LaGrange, the Colonels used 29 seconds of offensive clock before Whiteside knocked down a 30-foot jump shot to put the home team ahead for good.
After a free-throw by sophomore Tyler Wesley, Karsner and White scored the final six points for the Colonels as they secured a first-round NCAA tourney victory over LaGrange, 78-71.
The Colonels, lead by Head Coach Greg Mason, finished with a 24-5 record and won their sixth conference championship in eight seasons.
This season, CMB joined Amherst, Hope, Rhode Island College, St. Thomas (Minn.), Virginia Wesleyan, Washington University, Whitworth, Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Wooster as the only programs to make at least seven NCAA Tournaments in the last eight years.