The Skyhawks were going to be without three players they relied on so heavily during the 2010-11 season – Mike Kernan (12.4 points, 10.6 rebounds), Ivan Almeida (13.1 points, 6.2 rebounds) and Daniel Heppert (10.3 points, 5.7 rebounds) – and had to make up for the departure of that trio.
Rather than head into a rebuilding mode after losing the top three scorers and three of the four leading rebounders, though, Stonehill put together a season to remember.
For the second time since 2006, the Skyhawks advanced to the semifinal round of the NCAA Div. 2 tournament, going 25-9 and running off 10 consecutive wins before losing to 12th-ranked Western Washington, 71-66, on Thursday night.
It was quite a ride by a team that returned only two starters, and thanks to the solid program that has been constructed by coach David McLaughlin, Stonehill was able to reload rather than rebuild after losing Kernan, Heppert and Almeida.
The Skyhawks returned to their campus late Friday afternoon after being eliminated by Western Washington in Highland Heights, Ky., and Brockton native McLaughlin and his coaching staff brought home another selling point to use on the recruiting trail.
Two appearances in the Final Four in seven seasons and four consecutive 20-win seasons look rather nice on Stonehill's portfolio.
"What it does is it allows you to say, 'You're not just going to compete here with a winning team, you're going to compete here and have a chance to win on a national level,''' said McLaughlin on Saturday. "We're offering you a chance to win a national title. We're offering a chance to compete and do more than just win a league or have a good season.''
The Skyhawks are on an unprecedented roll since McLaughlin took over the program on an interim basis in January 2004 at the age of 29.
Stonehill has appeared in five NCAA tournaments in the eight full seasons of McLaughlin's tenure and have won at least 20 games six times.
From 1957 when the NCAA Div. 2 tourney was first held until McLaughlin was hired, Stonehill had gone to the NCAAs just seven times, advancing to the Northeast Regional final in 1998.
McLaughlin, whose team rallied to beat third-ranked West Liberty University last Wednesday, said the support the program receives from the school and the highly competitive Northeast-10 Conference helps the Skyhawks succeed.
"It starts from the top,'' said McLaughlin. "Stonehill has the leadership in place that allows us to win, wants us to win. And it's the players we bring into this program, too.
"It says a lot about our league, what we've done. You go through a league schedule like ours and survive it. Everyone tries to really get after each other from November. That allows you to play in the postseason, whether it's the regionals or the Elite 8. It allows you to be competitive.''
They will be the central figures in the next chapter for a successful Stonehill men's basketball program that soared to the national semifinal round again.
"Being able to be in the locker room with them after the (last) game and being able to let them know what I felt and seeing the emotion that was in that locker room, you know how bad the guys wanted to win,'' said McLaughlin.
"I think when we sit back and look back, it's something they'll never, ever forget. They should be very, very proud. And it was great for the Stonehill community. It showed how proud of a place Stonehill is, how together a place Stonehill is.''