By Andrew Smith | Advisor
The final regular season game for the Mariners’ women’s basketball team almost didn’t happen. A late-game scuffle on Thursday, Feb. 25 against Faulkner University resulted in four players serving automatic one-game suspensions and left the already depleted Coastal Georgia Mariners with just three eligible players for the season finale at Auburn University – Montgomery last Saturday, Feb. 27.
According to women’s head coach Jonathan Barbaree, if it was any other game, the team would have forfeited and prepared for the post-season tournament, which begins on Wednesday, March 2. However, the Feb. 27 contest was AUM’s senior night, when senior players are honored prior to the game and many of their families and friends are in attendance.
“You have to have at least five players to start a game and we were looking for any opportunity to play in the game because it was the right thing to do for AUM and for (Coastal senior) Janne (Tullius),” Barbaree said.
Wanting to be a good Southern States Athletic Conference partner, the Coastal Georgia administration came up with a creative way to fill out their roster. The supplemental players had to be NAIA eligible, so administrators knew they had to pull from its current stable of athletes.
“(Acting volleyball) coach Matt (Wallace) said he would ask his players if they’d be willing to help out,” Barbaree said. “It took about five minutes before they said, ‘we’re in.’”
In total, nine current women’s volleyball players from the two-time defending SSAC championship squad made the trip to Montgomery, Ala. and suited up for the Mariners blue uniforms that fit much differently than the ones they were used to. Playing in the game did not affect the players’ eligibility in volleyball.
A few of the volleyball players had played basketball in high school, but the majority had never picked up a basketball competitively. The Mariners lost 81-33, but freshman volleyball player Kyra White had 11 rebounds in just 18 minutes of action.
“It takes a lot of heart to go do something that you’re not trained in and you know you might not be very good at,” Barbaree said. “But their actions proved the type of environment we have on campus and in our department. Our athletes stick up for each other and support each other.”
The act was not lost on the women’s basketball team, which will still need to take two to three volleyball players to the conference tournament to fill out its roster. Two of the four players suspended from the Faulkner incident will have to sit out the opening round of the tournament.
“We’re extremely grateful that the girls helped us out the way they did because that was the only way we were able to finish out our regular season and go to the tournament” said Tullius, who had 16 points in the lopsided loss to AUM. “It takes a lot of courage and character to take the court in a sport you’re not trained in. It also shows how tight knit we are among the athletic teams, which is crucial when you’re in a situation like this.”
To see how the Mariners’ men’s and women’s teams fare in the SSAC basketball tournament this week, visit www.coastalgeorgiasports.com.