If you have heard about Hamline basketball this year, chances are it was for the wrong reason. The men's team made headlines in January after an alleged assault in Washington led to massive player suspensions and ultimately a midseason parting of ways between the school and head coach Nelson Whitmore.
The women's basketball program, however, is making sure the 2012-13 season is also remembered for a much more positive reason. While the Pipers started the season 0-5, they bounced back to finish 14-11 -- including a 14-8 mark in MIAC play, which earned the squad its first berth in the conference playoffs since 2009.
That means nobody on the current roster has played in a playoff game. That will change Tuesday night when Hamline travels to play at St. Benedict.
"When we sat down as a team, one of the main goals that kept coming up was making the playoffs," senior guard Kara Poirier said. "The senior class had never made it. It's something that never left our minds."
Poirier's three-pointer with 0.1 seconds remaining gave the Pipers a 74-71 victory over Bethel earlier this month that clinched a playoff berth. She also had a team-high 16 points in a 66-56 victory at St. Thomas, which ended the Tommies' 23-game home winning streak. Both games were part of a closing stretch that saw the Pipers win eight of their final nine regular-season games, giving them an abundance of confidence going into the postseason.
The entire season has been a significant turnaround from last year, when Hamline won only six conference games. Head coach Kerri Stockwell, in her third season, saw encouraging signs a season ago that have come to fruition this year.
"It's been a lot of hard work and a lot of determination," she said. "There have been a lot of close games this year that we've come out and finished. Things can swing the other way pretty quickly if you do that."
Hamline lost twice this season to St. Benedict (19-6 overall, 17-5 in MIAC), but to the Pipers that seems like a long time ago.
"We're really excited to get another crack at them," Poirier said. "When the playoffs were falling into place, we wanted [to play] one of the teams we haven't beaten yet. So we're excited to get another chance."
And to create a positive ending to the Hamline basketball season.
"We're pretty unified as a department," Stockwell said. "It feels good to be able to represent the university in a positive light, no doubt."