NEW BRITAIN - The CCSU womenâ€™s basketball team has endured a grueling season for a number of reasons. From a 2-23 record to a current six-game losing skid and the absence of head coach Beryl Piper, who has been on administrative leave since mid-January, the Blue Devilsâ€™ season has been mired in frustration and uncertainty.
But despite the mounting losses, CCSU believes it still has something valuable to play for.
With four games left, the Blue Devils sit at 1-13 in conference play but are still clinging to what has become a faint hope to reach the NEC Tournament. The top eight teams in the conference advance to play in the tournament for a shot at March Madness, and Wagner currently holds that eighth spot with a 4-9 record in the NEC. Itâ€™s a long shot, but CCSU could win out and hope Wagner loses out and open the door for a most improbable tournament entry.
Merrimack is new to the conference meaning they are ineligible for the tournament, which opens up a final spot for the Blue Devils to potentially sneak in.
â€śThe kids know weâ€™re still alive and they come and bring it every day in practice,â€ť assistant coach Kerri Reeves said. â€śThey know weâ€™re still in it and they focus on that every day and are still aware of it. They check scores and those kinds of things. Itâ€™s not lost on us. We know weâ€™re still able to get in, so thatâ€™s a bonus for us.â€ť
Monday would have been a great opportunity to give those slim hopes a shot of adrenaline, but the Blue Devils instead fell 63-55 to Fairleigh Dickinson after holding an eight-point lead in the second quarter. Itâ€™s been that kind of season for CCSU, losing seven conference bouts by single digits, but despite the frustrating finishes in games where a win is there for the taking, the Blue Devils continue to get back up and fight to play past the regular season until the chances are spent.
â€śI just want to see fight,â€ť junior guard Ashley Forker said. â€śI know itâ€™s been really tough and when youâ€™ve been knocked down so many times, itâ€™s tough to keep going and keep believing. But weâ€™re not going down easy.â€ť
Getting a win on Friday against Wagner would be a great start to CCSUâ€™s surge to the tournament. The Seahawks are the only NEC team the Blue Devils have beaten this season, and a win on Friday would ensure CCSUâ€™s ownership of a potential head-to-head tiebreaker. Another winnable game at home against LIU (6-18, 5-8 NEC) on March 2 could give the Blue Devils some more hope, considering they lost to the Sharks on the road by just two earlier this season.
CCSU believes in its ability to turn things around starting on Friday because if any team has experience in taking it on the chin and continuing to show up, itâ€™s this team, which has experienced countless frustrating losses but still has hope of playing past its final regular season game on March 5.
â€śItâ€™s been a really tough season for us,â€ť Forker said. â€śBut weâ€™re learning to persevere more and keep believing even when things look bad.â€ť
Things havenâ€™t looked great for the Blue Devils, at least in terms of wins and losses, for much of the season. After starting the season 0-10 and conference play 0-7, it didnâ€™t look like there would be much for CCSU to play for down the stretch of the regular season. But with four games to go, the Blue Devils are still clinging to the belief that itâ€™s about how you finish.
â€śWeâ€™re still looking to make the conference tournament,â€ť Forker said. â€śThat hasnâ€™t changed from the start, even if things have been rough. We believe we can make it.â€ť
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org