ALBANY — In sports, you’re not supposed to say “We’re just happy to be here.”
Well, the College of Saint Rose women’s basketball team can be forgiven for thinking that.
“Here” in a literal sense was Saint Rose’s homecourt, Nolan Gymnasium, on Tuesday, and in a broader sense it was the point in 2020-21 at which the Golden Knights could actually … play their season opener. On Feb. 16 in 2020, Saint Rose was two games away from the season being over; in 2021, it was the starting point.
In their first game action in 357 days, the Golden Knights lost 70-54 to Mercyhurst, and will play the Lakers again at 1 p.m. on Wednesday.
It marked the head coaching debut of Whitney Edwards, who was hired to replace Karen Haag in June and found the most mundane of coaching assignments — scheduling games — to be as perplexing a task as any she might face. Besides Wednesday’s game, the Golden Knights have four other games in February, then who knows.
On Tuesday, though, it was finally just about basketball, and not the complications and disruptions of a season during a pandemic.
“It was awesome,” Edwards said. “I wanted everybody to have fun. The texts that I got today were a reminder, and I’d like to shout out to everyone who was so supportive. I had a great time. They surprised me on some of the things they were able to do from an execution standpoint.
“But, you know, it was just great to be on the sideline, honestly. It has been such a long year. Just to have an opportunity to have a shot, it felt really, really good.”
“It was great,” said Amsterdam High graduate Nina Fedullo, who scored four points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked two shots in 18 minutes off the bench.
“We’ve been practicing since September. It was kind of like, ‘When are we going to play, when are we going to play?’ So just being back, it was great. It felt … normal. Which is something we haven’t felt like in months.”
Saint Rose’s conference, the Northeast-10, voted in December to cancel a formal schedule and championships for winter sports, leaving it to individual schools to assemble a schedule.
The basketball season typically begins in November, but Edwards had to line up games while not even knowing when Saint Rose would be allowed to play.
“Well, about five days ago … It’s just been so hectic and up-and-down — we got the green light roughly a week ago to actually move forward,” she said. “I worked ahead of time to get people [opponents] set up so that when we were given the green light, we were ready to go. That came with a couple of bumps, too. It didn’t go off as planned, but I don’t think there’s been a plan that’s gone off well in the last 360 days.
“It’s been hard, though, to not have a structured conference schedule, to not have teams playing in our league. It’s been a fight to find opponents who were also willing to come here. I don’t know how we pulled it off, but we were able to get a few on there. So we’re looking forward to playing them again tomorrow, and then hoping we are able to get another handful in before it’s all said and done.”
Once the Golden Knights did get to tip off, Edwards’ challenge was to coax consistent play from a roster that includes one senior, Fedullo, and six freshmen, three of whom played at least 19 minutes against Mercyhurst.
The roster also includes four sophomores, but they hadn’t played a real game since Feb. 25 of last year.
After a 16-16 first quarter, Saint Rose had a difficult time getting shots in the second quarter, much less making them. and fell behind 32-24 at halftime.
The Golden Knights got within 35-29 in the early stages of the third quarter on a layup from Isabel Sanchez and a 3-pointer from Catherine Finnerty.
Mercyhurst’s Julia Buchman made three 3-pointers in the quarter to help the Lakers keep Saint Rose at bay. The Golden Knights ran off eight straight points to end the quarter, but still trailed 45-37.
Saint Rose didn’t closer than 10 in the fourth quarter.
Mercyhurst (8-4) was able to start its season in November and came in with 11 games under its belt, despite six games being postponed or canceled.
“We stayed with them early, and then they started to adjust and started to attack us more,” Edwards said. “You look at the fourth quarter, it was 25-17, so we put some points up, but I think that’s where you saw our fatigue.
“We were just trying to finish the game. We have to do more to control the tempo better so we can — I don’t want to say save ourselves — but make smarter plays so that we’re not exhausted. But they were so excited, I don’t want to pull them back too much. We were kind of shot out of a cannon for a little bit there.”
“It was very exciting to get back on the court, especially because it’s been almost a year since we played our last game,” said junior guard Becca Townes, who led Saint Rose with 12 points. “We have a lot of newcomers and a brand-new team, especially with just two returning starters. I think we did pretty good for our first game. There’s clearly details and things that we have to get together and focus on.”
“I was a little nervous at first [about her entire senior season being canceled], just because so many teams and conferences were canceling their season, and it wasn’t going to happen,” Fedullo said. “I got a little more nervous coming back to school in January, when there were still no games scheduled. But I’m super-grateful that we’re one of the few teams have the ability to play.”