WINONA LAKE – It happened to a few teams last week, and Grace was one of them. Just hours before stepping onto the floor at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, Grace was told to pack up the bus and head back to Winona Lake.
No basketball. No warning.
“We just arrived at the Pentagon and were waiting to get into our locker room prior to the next game,” started Grace College men’s basketball coach Scott Moore. “My brother, Marcus, was on the phone with our athletic director (Chad Briscoe) and he motioned me to come over. When I saw the look in his face, I already knew.”
Scott would add of the surreal moment, “I walked back to my team and brought them over to a side court. Barely finding the words, I told them the tournament was cancelled. Our players and coaches struggled as it was a pretty emotional time. We circled up to pray as a team and then I had the guys take a team picture together. Not really knowing what to do or say, I let them stay on the court for some time after.”
It was the reality of the situation that Grace, which was slated to play West Virginia Tech at 1:45 p.m. Thursday. It was decided earlier in the morning by the NAIA officials that the tournament would be cancelled in what would be one of the wildest sports days the country has ever seen. Not only were the NAIA tourneys called, but the NCAA saw many of the conference tournaments nixed. Some – like the Big East – had Creighton and St. John’s literally pulled off the floor at halftime. That game would be the last NCAA tournament game, and a precursor to March Madness becoming March Sadness.
“Obviously there was a lot of discussion on what was going on, but the situation is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced,” Moore said. “I don’t think we will get a grasp on it for a little while.”
The NAIA Division II tournament had wrapped up its Wednesday games, a slate of eight contests, and had St. Francis advance in Grace’s bracket. Olivet Nazarene was on deck to play the noon game, but were called back before it took the court. Nazarene, which features Warsaw Community High School graduate Trevor Rumple, was one of the four No. 1 seeds in the tourney, and would potentially have been Grace’s second round opponent if they two won Thursday.
No one will know, however, if the two would have met. Or what would have become of Kyle Mangas and Indiana Wesleyan on the other side of the bracket, looking to win its fourth title in seven years. Or if any of the eight Indiana teams still left in the tournament could have hoisted the trophy.
No one will know.
The Grace men’s team ends the year ranked No. 13 in the NAIA under Moore in his first year as head coach. The Lancers scored six top-25 upsets this season, including a season sweep of rival Bethel.
Grace, at 19-12 overall, reached the NAIA tournament for the first time since 2015. Grace’s 11-7 Crossroads League mark was tied for the best league record since 2012-13. Moore was also tabbed by his peers as the Crossroads League Coach of the Year among the host of season awards.
The team sends off seniors Braxton Linville, Martin Schiele, Jaret Sons, Charlie Warner and David Holden, who were primed to not only challenge for the NAIA title, but have options to join the NCCAA tournament as a high seed had the NAIA run fallen short of the Final Four. Grace was primed to host the NCCAAs before that was folded over the weekend.
“After we took our team picture I just spoke to them in front of the entire group,” Moore said. “I mean, what do you say? There is no manual for that conversation. I just told them I was so proud of them and that they got us here. They changed our program and put the Grace College Lancers back on the national scene.”