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Terriers seniors leave lasting mark in March Madness

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This should ease the pain of not reaching its first-ever NCAA tournament as many expected for St. Francis College this year.

The talk all season was the school’s men’s basketball team trying to reach the Big Dance for the first time ever. Its bid fell short in excruciating fashion in the Northeast Conference title game against Robert Morris. The women’s squad exacted a little revenge by beating the Colonials in the conference final. That ensured at least one of the Terriers teams will experience March Madness by winning its first conference crown.

“I think it’s redemption,” said senior forward Sarah Benedetti. “I think it is really awesome that ours was against Robert Morris. It was a quick pick up for St. Francis Brooklyn. The boys suffered a tough loss, but the fans and supporters knew there was another chance.”

A chance is exactly what the fifth-seeded Terriers squad continued to give itself as is it knocked off the tournament’s fourth, first and third seeds on its way to the crown. It needed double overtime to beat top-seeded Central Connecticut State in the semifinals. That kept the players from focusing on the potential for a Hollywood ending until the moment finally arrived.

“The way our season went, I really didn’t want to think about it until the trophy was in our hands,” said Benedetti, who earned most-valuable-player honors.

The crown is the capstone for an amazing four-year journey for the squad’s five seniors. They suffered through a four-win season as freshmen before current Terriers coach John Thurston arrived.

Amid high expectations, the Terriers started the conference season 2–6 this year. It looked far from a championship club at first, but as the group’s chemistry grew, so did its win total. The team went 10–3 in its next 13 games on its way to the crown. It has earned every minute of the experience that comes with making the NCAA tournament.

“I really want them to enjoy everything about this,” Thurston said.

Even finding out his team would face UConn, the nation’s top squad and defending national champion, in the opening round didn’t spoil the party. It shouldn’t. The Terriers will take its shot at the perennial power 9 pm March 21 in Storrs, but will have a story to tell even if defeated.

“Regardless of the outcome, this is an experience and an opportunity that people would dream up of,” Benedetti said. “It is so awesome that we get to live it out.”

This group of seniors — which also include Eilidh Simpsom, Katie Fox, Jaymee Venney and Colette Houshell — have now set the standard for future Terriers teams and brought some needed joy to Remsen Street during a March that was headed toward being more frustrating than exciting, and written their own historic chapter before departing.

“We have been able to accomplish so many things,” Benedetti said. “It’s really fulfilling to be able to do so much with such a core group. There is no better way to leave St. Francis.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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