EASTON — There weren't any senior moments as the 2012-2013 Stonehill College women's basketball season wound down on Saturday.
"The only shining light," veteran head coach Trisha Brown reflected, "is I didn't have to hug a senior goodbye. We'll be back."
There are those who will tell you the Skyhawks shouldn't have been here this year, not in the NCAA Div. 2 East Regional this season, not with a roster that didn't have a member of the school's senior class on it.
But there they were at Bentley University's Dana Center over the weekend, led by Brown (who truly earned Northeast-10 Conference Coach of the Year honors this season), vying with Dowling College for a berth in the regional championship game and a shot at a trip to the Elite Eight in San Antonio.
"It came together a little more quickly" than even the coach expected, Brown admitted in the aftermath of the Skyhawks' 57-45 semifinal-round loss.
Rebounding from the first sub-.500 finish in the program's history, the Skyhawks ended a two-year absence from the NCAA tourney, their 24 wins this season nearly doubling their total of 13 the previous year and including a 78-66 victory over Franklin Pierce in a regional quarterfinal game.
"This is a special team," said Brown. "They bonded quickly and they understood chemistry. I'd love to talk about every kid on this team because one of the things I said in the locker room (after the loss to Dowling) was, (we have) kids that understand their role – kids that didn't play a minute of game time.
"We had a freshman class that came to compete every day in practice and that made us better. You had kids understanding their roles and coming off the bench. An Amy Pelletier, who started last year, her ability to say, 'Yeah, I'm OK with coming off the bench' and her ability to still be the difference in a lot of games this year. That's (what makes) the success of a team.
"One-through-11, these kids really understood what their role meant to the team. That's something you work hard for every year, but you don't always get. This team has that."
Comprised of four juniors (co-captains Mary Louise Dixon and Asia Ewing, plus Abbey Lalime and Morghan Farnsworth), four sophomores (Pelletier, Tori Faieta, Jamie Panton and Ashley Gendron) and three freshmen (Paige Marshall, Alee Leteria and Shannon Brown), the team made a statement at the season's outset, shooting out to an 8-0 start.
The Skyhawks put together two streaks of six straight wins later in the season, along the way handing Northeast-10 champion Bentley the only blemish on the 30-1 record it will carry into tonight's regional championship game with Dowling.
Times have changed.
"There's a different feeling," said Faieta. "Not that I'm accepting the fact that we lost, but I'm definitely feeling more fulfilled than I did last year when there was an empty feeling. I'm looking forward to next year."
Expectations are about to change as well.
"We're at a different level now, so our expectations and the goals we set for next year will be very different," said Brown. "I know this team and their passion and their intensity. They're going to be hungry. They're going to be hungry for next year and talking about a championship."
Dixon and Faieta both sound ready to talk the talk.
"It's different from where we were at this time last year when we had to rebuild," said Dixon, the point guard who led the team in minutes (956), points (409) and assists (174). "This year we can just build off where we're at. We're going to be even better than we were this year. We'll have a great summer where everybody's working hard to have a great preseason and do it all over again."
"We know what we're capable of now," said Faieta, who led the team in field-goal percentage (51.4 percent), rebounds (233) and blocked shots (52), "so we can just get better from here."