Justin Chapman | Echo
The prosperous year that the Taylor men's basketball team has enjoyed is now over. On March 10, the No. 25 Trojans lost to No. 11 Trinity International. The final score was 74-72.
With this basketball season at a close, the team can reflect on this game and the many others played. They ended with a record of 21-12, including going 11-7 in the Crossroads League. Because of this, the team considers this year a success.
Senior Lane Vander Hulst said the team sets goals for the year before each season starts. This year, the team accomplished many of their goals.
"One of those (goals) was to host a home game for the conference tournament, which we were able to do," Vander Hulst said. "So that was a success. And another one was to make it to (the national tournament), and we did that too."
The final game against Trinity came down to the wire and ended with Trinity hitting a shot with one second left. Vander Hulst said the team felt Taylor definitely could have come out on top.
Despite their 15-point lead at halftime, Taylor could not hold on. Hot shooting by Trinity (they made nine threes) in the second half helped Trinity overcome that deficit and gain the victory.
"We lost some of our identity in the second half in that we didn't take great care of the basketball, and Trinity's pressure and athleticism was able to force us into hurried play," head coach Josh Andrews said. "There were a few possessions we'd like to get back, but our guys were resilient and had a chance to win in the end."
This game was a battle in the second half with three ties and three lead changes. Taylor could only maintain their lead until 11:45 left in the game, when Trinity's Jeremy Carlyle hit a three to bring them a 53-52 lead.
Sophomore Jake Heggeland brought what Taylor needed in the game. Heggeland dropped 23 points and snagged six rebounds. Throughout the game, Taylor would consistently pound the ball inside and Heggeland would find a way to score.
Next year, Taylor will lose two seniors: Lane Vander Hulst and Eric Cellier. Taylor would not have had such a sensational season without them. Despite this loss, The Trojans have the chance to be as competitive next year.
"A lot of work has gone into the success that we experienced this year," Cellier said. "The past (before this season) was an accumulation of all that work. It definitely paid off, and it will continue to pay off in the next coming years as these guys build on what we did this year."
This year's lineup beat two top-10 nationally ranked teams this year, a feat they have not accomplished in several seasons. Taylor was in the NAIA national polls from November 29 to February 4 and were as high as No. 7 in the country.
Taylor ended the season tied for third in the Crossroads League. This was their most dominant year, in terms of games won, since the 2012-13 season. The Trojans also went to their first NAIA national tournament game since the 2005-06 season.
Freshman Mason Degenkolb was named Taylor's first-ever freshman All-American. Being named an All-American means that Degenkolb was one of the best basketball players in the country.
Taylor had three scholar athletes: Vander Hulst and juniors Tim Fleming and Graham Ortmann. Scholar athletes have to hold at least a 3.5 GPA while playing sports to earn this honor. They must have at least junior academic status. Red-shirted athletes are included as long as they are in their third year of college.
Andrews was extraordinarily proud of this team and all they accomplished this year. The opportunity to play in the national tournament is something he is thankful for. Next year he hopes the team builds off this year and continues their successes.
While Vander Hulst and Cellier are done, they hope to see this team get better and achieve further in the years to come. "I'm expecting more," Cellier said. "(The rest of the players and coaches) don't take it lightly; they expect more too. We now have a standard for this program, and it'll be fun to see them continue to chase it."
"Photograph provided by Fayth Glock"