Lady Jags season canceled: an oral history

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The IUPUI Lady Jaguars were a dominant team throughout the course of the season. They finished the regular season with a 21-8 record, and only lost three times in Horizon League play. They additionally outscored their conference opponents by 18.7 points per game, and took that dominance to the conference tournament, where they won their two games against Cleveland State and Milwaukee by 17 and 14, respectively. The team was jubilant after their win on March 10th. 

By March 12th, however, COVID-19 had caused many cancellations in sports, and by that afternoon the NCAA canceled their men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. This all happened quickly, and left some members of the team confused.

We interviewed three players and head coach Austin Parkinson. Here are their accounts of what happened, and how quickly everything changed.

 

Before the NCAA Tournament was canceled, the team still had to face it’s conference championship schedule, where they came in as the number one seed in the tournament.

 

Rachel McLimore (Redshirt Sophomore): We obviously felt confident, but we knew we still had to play the high level that got us to win the regular season and the conference. We knew we had to play the high level that got us to win the regular season because we knew we had a target on our back. We were confident but we knew we had a lot to take care of.

 

Holly Hoopingarner (Senior, Horizon League Tournament MVP): Personally and as a team, we had a lot of confidence coming into the conference tournament, especially once we found out who were playing and we could start preparing for that team. Everybody was psyched up to play. We really thought we were going to make a run and make it all the way.

 

Macee Williams (Junior, Horizon League Player of the Year) : I was pretty confident because how the season was going, we had the confidence of ourselves coming in and knowing we could win.

 

Austin Parkinson (Coach, IUPUI): Well, I felt like we had the best team. But we really hadn’t shot well the last four or five games of the regular season, and we had such a long gap of games from I think it was 11 days, but some people I talked to were nervous about the double bye. In our particular case, we were excited about it because it gave us a chance to get our legs back, and spend time in the gym getting our confidence back shooting. 

 

The Jaguars clinched the title on Monday, March 10th. They beat Milwaukee, a team who beat them in their previous encounter, 51-37. They held Milwaukee scoreless in the fourth quarter.

 

Parkinson: It was an incredible feeling knowing that you won the regular season, but that doesn’t guarantee anything in regards to the tournament. I was really proud of our players, especially in the championship game. Defensively, to hold the other team to zero points in the fourth quarter. We’ve built our program with a defensive mindset and that helped to beat the next best team in the league. And then in the fourth quarter when it matters most, to hold them scoreless, you know, really you know made it an extra special feeling.

 

Hoopingarner:  It was the most excited I have ever been playing basketball, because you know that’s the dream--winning the conference tournament and making it to the NCAA Tournament. Get to compete in the big dance. So it felt like all of our hard work and dedication since we were little had finally paid off.

 

McLimore: It was so awesome, it was awesome to see all of our hard work pay off and to make history was really cool. 

 

Williams: It was an unforgettable experience. It was just such a good feeling of knowing the hard work you put in throughout the season and it was just such an awesome thing.

 

Parkinson gave the team Wednesday and Thursday off, with plans to begin preparation for the NCAA Tournament that Friday. 

 

Parkinson:  So the last kind of memory was us in the locker room and the ladies had splashed me with water and our last discussion was we’re gonna give you the two days off, and then Friday we’re going to come in and start practicing for whoever our opponent is. 

 

Coach Parkinson felt confident that his team would not just be a first round doormat in the NCAA Tournament. 

 

Parkinson:  A unique stat from this year, and this has not happened in the years that I have coached, is that we never lost a game by double digits. And if you go back and look at our non conference, each of the teams that we had played were upper echelon teams in the league. If you look at it we had a lead in the fourth quarter against Miami, against Butler, Northern Iowa. All road games. We weren’t able to complete those games, we had a lot of losses by two points, three points. Even in conference a lot of our losses were by two or three, I felt pretty good about postseason play. The other part about it is, the way our team is built, Macee and Mo (Morgan Allen) are 6’2” and 6’3” and we had the physicality to match up with Power 5 teams, and we were looking forward to the competition.

 

Even so, the commotion with COVID-19 starts swirling and becomes impossible to ignore.

 

Hoopingarner: After the conference tournament, even after all this stuff started happening with COVID. And school started getting canceled and all that kinda stuff. Luckily it was our spring break anyway,  and we were going to classes, but we just weren’t sure what was going to happen and so a lot of the team ended up going home, if they’re in Indiana, to go home and celebrate with our families, our friends. And then we were gonna come back on Thursday or Friday and practice for the NCAA Tournament. 

 

McLimore: We had a couple days off so we were getting ready to come back and start practicing for the NCAA (Tournament) when we had the news. When we found out it was during our days off, so we were just getting ready mentally.

 

Then, the inevitable becomes reality: the NCAA Tournament was canceled. 

 

Hoopingarner: Oh, funny, I was actually just sitting on the couch, I was home alone, and I had seen some other stuff start to get canceled. We saw the NBA season get suspended I think that was on Wednesday. We saw the NCAA say no fans on Wednesday, so it was almost like you’re gonna wait for it. Then I found out Thursday at 230.

 

Parkinson: Actually I was doing an interview on the phone with a radio station and my phone started buzzing quite a bit, and obviously I couldn’t take it during the call so when I was done I immediately looked down and several of the players had texted me already. I had a pretty good idea the tournament was going to get canceled, but in today’s day and age with the way technology goes, the immediacy of them finding out versus me being able to tell them, so they informed me.

 

McLimore:  I was just at home and then I saw a text from Holly. And I was like ‘oh no’ and your heart just drops. It’s definitely very upsetting.

 

Parkinson: Wednesday night the NBA canceled their season, and Thursday in the late afternoon was when they canceled the NCAA Tournament. We scheduled a meeting the Friday after, brought everybody together. And it was an odd feeling, your season typically ends with a win or a loss. You don’t normally end your season on the couch, looking at Twitter. 

 

Understandably, all parties involved were upset.

 

Williams: It went from being one of the greatest weeks of my life to like, just such a devastating, devastating week. Just getting the phone call saying we weren’t going to be able to play in the NCAA it was just such a crushing feeling. Just knowing we weren’t gonna be able to get that back, and just because of all the hard work we put in. I felt bad for Holly knowing she was a senior. Coach P said multiple times you’re going into the game knowing it was gonna be your last game, but none of us knew.

 

McLimore: It definitely took some of your joy away. I was still was super excited about conference but part of the reason you’re so excited is because you get to go to the NCAA’s. It’s just kind of frustrating, but then I’ve had to look back and think about all the positives. The fact that we were able to get our conference tournament in was a huge positive and some people didn’t get to experience that, so that kinda helped me get over the frustration of not being able to play.

 

Parkinson: We kind of had an idea that was gonna happen. It was just more of when at that point. But, like I said it was a punch to the gut. It was obviously the right reasons, and it needed to take place in regards to canceling the tournament. But my heart went out to our players, because one I was excited for them to experience playing in the NCAA Tournament; and two was the collective feeling we had when we got together, which was that we felt like we had the chance to do some damage and win some games in the tournament. They always played with that mentality of wanting to prove people wrong and I think they were excited about finally getting to do that on a bigger stage. 

 

For Hoopingarner, the team’s lone senior, it stung hard.

 

Hoopingarner:  I didn’t really know how to feel. When you have something so unexpected,come to an abrupt end, and something amazing just ends, especially since it’s my senior year so I don’t get it back. Everybody else, they get to come back next year, they get to compete once again, they hopefully get to go to the NCAA Tournament and play next year, but this was my one year I was going to get to enjoy that. It’s a lot of emotions that are kind of a tough pill to swallow.

 

Williams: I felt bad for Holly knowing she was a senior. Coach P said multiple times you’re going into the game knowing it was gonna be your last game, but none of us knew.

 

Hoopingarner:  I felt sick to my stomach literally, just because as a basketball player who has been so dedicated to the sport since I was so young. It was great to get to the tournament, because that’s what everyone wants to play for. Having it taken away from me, and I’m not saying this in a negative way because obviously they’re taking precautions, they’re trying to do what’s best for the public. It’s not like I’m mad at anybody. But yeah, it definitely did feel like something was taken away that would have been an amazing experience.

 

Even so, Hoopingarner is grateful that in a sense, she got to go out on top. 

 

Hoopingarner: I am very thankful that we got to end the season. It gives you a peace of mind knowing that we were the regular season champs, that we were the Horizon League champs, we earned all of that. A lot of conferences didn’t get to finish. Some people were getting the trophy because they happened to be the one seed, and nobody wants that as an athlete. We’re all too competitive, to just have something handed to us. I’m very thankful that we did get to finish out the regular season, finished out the conference tournament, and have that moment with that team, it’s a very special memory. A lot of people don’t get to say that their last game was a championship.

 

Even though the other players are discouraged that they’ll have to wait until next year, they plan on starting next season strong, even if they acknowledge it will be more difficult without Hoopingarner. Still, Williams notes how difficult it will be to prepare for next season.

 

Williams: We still have a good shot of making it far in the tournament even without Holly, but losing unlimited access to gyms, and stuff like that, it puts a toll on your exercise and what you want to do. I had a bunch of plans for my senior year, because your senior year you want to go all out. But not having unlimited gym access and stuff like that kind of takes a toll on that. I’m just trying to do little things around the house so I can stay in shape with all the stuff I have around the house. 

 

McLimore: Obviously Holly’s gonna be a huge loss, so we’ll really have to take time to adjust to losing her because she meant so much to our team, in so many different ways. But we do have a ton of pieces coming back so I feel pretty confident that we’ll have a good team again, and because so many of us have played a lot together already, so we know each other well. I think if we just work on a few things. We can be really good again.

Parkinson: I think the biggest loss is the leadership of Holly. We relied so heavily on Holly, organizing, leading. But basketball wise, we’ve got a really nice opportunity that we do have back. That said, it’s going to be a different feeling. You’re not going to be picked third, you’re going to be the favorite. And we have to manage those expectations, if we continue to focus on the process, one game at a time, you have to stay healthy, we feel really good about what our prospects are, but if you focus on winning the championship, things can go sideways in a hurry.


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