As March comes rolling in around the corner, most basketball fans get excited for March Madness. While March Madness is always exciting to watch, there’s another tournament that gives many fans something to cheer for, with teams that do not include Kentucky, or Duke. Names like Jahlil Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kelsey Mitchell and Breanna Stewart won’t be seen here. Instead, you could possibly see names like Jaimie Bickelhaupt, Sean Martin, Heather Lewis, and Josh Altman.
This tournament is called the NEWMAC championship and it’s just getting under way.
The NEWMAC consists of eight teams: Babson, WPI, Springfield, MIT, Emerson, Clark, Coast Guard and Wheaton. Babson holds down the number one seed this year for the first time since 2004 with an impressive overall record of 23-2.
Springfield didn’t fall far behind the Beavers though, finishing their season 18-7 (10-4 NEWMAC) with a third seed ranking.
The Pride, coached under Charlie Brock, haven’t had much luck the past few years in the NEWMAC Tournament. In 2013, the Pride lost an unfortunate heartbreaking loss to WPI, battling all the way to overtime, falling 79-72.
In 2014, Springfield had a great 20-8 overall record, but yet again fell short in the Championship game; this time to MIT 67-56.
This year, however, could be much different for the Pride. They started off the season on fire with four straight wins before falling to Keene State, Trinity and Williams for three consecutive losses in a row. It hasn’t been an inconsistent season for them, but it hasn’t gone as smooth as they would like to be.
This year Springfield has been up and down with wins, either winning by double digits, or losing miserably. While that played as a factor throughout the whole season, things have seemed to be going their way lately. With three wins in a row and a dominant 22-point victory over Coast Guard February 21, the Pride have a little momentum going into the tournament. As many sports fans know, momentum can take you farther than you would imagine.
Collectively, Springfield has almost every statistic equal to the conferences. Individually, there are a number of players that stand out.
Senior Sean Martin leads the team with 15.2 points per game (ppg.) Right being him stands Josh Altman, another senior Guard who has had himself a solid season as well; scoring 11.9 ppg.
Martin is arguably Springfield’s best player, and there’s not a moment when you don’t see him being a floor general.
“I do my best to lead by example and play as hard and smart as I can day in and day out.” Martin said, “I’ve always played hard, just some days you have to work the hardest on the floor. That’s where I’ve grown.”
Martin has always been the hardest worker, taking hard fouls game after game, and playing the most minutes; he needs to win.
“I was as hungry to win my freshman year as I am now.” Martin added, “I’m going to do everything in my power to help this team bring the title home.” This will be the senior’s last chance to win a NEWMAC title.
Martin has played like a leader the whole year and lately, more than ever. He has shown true leadership and aggressiveness. The passion to win is noticeable as you watch him play. Don’t be surprised if you see his stat sheet explode with numbers with the upcoming tournament.
For the women, they have had themselves a lovely season. It was a little bit different of a start compared to the men, though. The Pride started off the season with three straight losses. It almost made fans believe it was going to be another re-run of the 2012-13 season, where the women had a rough 4-20 overall record, their worst season in years. But coach Naomi Graves gathered her squad and made some changes. Next thing that happens, they win the next eight of 10 games. Things seemed to be clicking.
As the season carried on, the Pride found that they were winning almost every game without even thinking about it. They finished off the season 19-6 (14-2 NEWMAC).
Although basketball is a team game, they wouldn’t have been so successful without leading scorer Jaimie Bickelhaupt. Bickelhaupt is averaging 12.2 points per game and added a remarkable accolade to her career, scoring over 1,000 points for her career.
“We’ve worked so hard to be where we are and put ourselves in the best possible position to win at home.” Bickelhaupt said.
After the 0-3 start they turned the season around real quick. Bickelhaupt sees herself as a leader and role model to the team, especially the first year players.
“I feel as if my team respects the decisions I make, I’m always trying to make the best ones possible; they trust me.” Bicklehaupt mentioned. There’s no denying that her and Martin both have the same mentality when it comes to winning, either.
“I want that trophy, and I want to defend our title my senior year and go out on a great note,” Said Bickelhaupt, “I can’t do that without my team, though.”
Alongside Bickelhaupt is teammate Heather Lewis. The junior is putting up 11.1 points per game, being Bickelhaupt’s partner is crime as they emerged themselves as a dynamic duo; they are a threat to all teams.
On the defensive end, the Pride holds their opponents to a 31.8 percent, slightly above conference average at 30.5 percent. Defense wins championships, and that’s exactly what the women’s teams’ best asset is.
With the NEWMAC Championships coming up, both men and women’s team will be competing this Saturday, February 28. The women’s team will face either WPI or Babson at 1p.m. While the men will battle a tough contest against WPI at Babson College at 3:30p.m for the semifinals.