Kaela Hilaire had a question: How far could the already talented Stony Brook women’s basketball team go after she transferred from Seton Hall?
Unfortunately, that question will go unanswered. On March 12, the NCAA canceled the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments because of concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.
“Everybody just broke down when we heard the news],” Hilaire said this week. “Not being able to get that chance to go to the NCAA Tournament was a punch in the gut that we weren’t prepared for.”
The Seawolves’ best season in program history was over.
Stony Brook (28-3) had been set to host the America East championship game against Maine on March 13 with the team’s first NCAA Tournament bid on the line.
“Everyone was still anticipating playing during the week,” Stony Brook coach Caroline McCombs said. “Last Wednesday night we got word that the NBA was shutting down, and we knew that was the tip of the iceberg for what was going to happen.”
The next day, athletic director Shawn Heilbron addressed the team during practice to tell them the game had been canceled. Later in the day, during an impromptu meeting of all Stony Brook athletes and administrators, word trickled in through social media that the entire NCAA Tournament had been canceled.
“Making it to the NCAA Tournament is an experience that you won’t forget, and we all wanted to put Stony Brook on the map,” Hilaire said. “We never would have thought that semifinal was the last game for a lot of us. It was very emotional, but you can’t take away what we did this year.”
Included in the 28-3 record was a 22-game winning streak. The team also received votes in the Top 25 coaches poll.
“Early on in conference play, we were down at halftime a few times and had some close games, but we always figured it out,” McCombs said. “You never know how a team is going to respond, but this was as resilient of a group as I’ve had. They loved each other more than any other team I’ve had and they wanted this year to be special.”
Adding Hilaire, a graduate student who averaged 13.3 points per game in a team-leading 31.1 minutes, raised the ceiling for the Seawolves. The guard, a 2016 Newsday Player of the Year from Floral Park High School, also led the team with 144 assists and 51 steals.
“ ‘KK’ knows how to run a team and she was a great leader for our players,” McCombs said. “Our bond was special and I trusted her a lot. She really enabled us to get the most out of our team.”
Unfortunately for Stony Brook, its special season ended a little earlier than it had hoped.
“Being the top seed in the America East Tournament and playing home games in that atmosphere was great,” Hilaire said. “But we wanted to make more history.”