The IU South Bend sports teams are members of the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC), and the Titans have achieved a good deal of success over the years. However, this season’s basketball teams have raised the bar.
Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams took home CCAC tournament titles. The last time any CCAC school took home both championships was 2009. The women’s squad also did something unprecedented, becoming the first Titans team in any sport to win both the regular season and tournament championships in the same season.
Winning the CCAC tournament means advancing to the next level, the tournament of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). Although both Titans teams were eliminated in the first round, the success is something to savor for now and to build on for the 2023-24 campaign.
Steve Bruce, coach of the women’s team, was happy to welcome back four of the five starters from the ’21-’22 team.
“We had those core players coming back this season, so we knew we were going to be good,” Bruce said.
Even the confident coach could not have predicted a 28-2 record, best in program history. Led by sisters Maddie and Katie Gard – both of them all-CCAC first-team honorees – the team seamlessly incorporated two new transfer players, Tia Chambers and Jazmen Watts.
“We’re pretty particular about who we let in, because we have a tight team culture, high-character girls,” Bruce said. “The team welcomed Tia and Jazmen, and they reciprocated.”
As the wins piled up, the mood got even better. After three crucial victories, the athletes emptied out their water bottles on the coach’s head in locker-room celebrations. It’s one of the highest honors the team can give its leader (and less sticky than Gatorade.)
“I enjoyed every second of that,” Bruce said. “Sometimes, as a coach, you get caught up in so many things and you lose the moment. This year, I made sure to appreciate how special this team is.”
They will be losing some top talent to graduation, but next season will feature three incoming freshmen who are all between 6’1’’ and 6’3’’, meaning that the Titans will have more size under the basket to complement the speedy perimeter players. Better yet, both Gard sisters are exercising their rights to a fifth year of eligibility for next season. So is Emma Fisher, who led this season’s team in minutes, assists and steals.
“Our conference opponents are going to be disappointed to hear that those players are coming back,” Bruce said.
The men’s team required a lot of heart and determination to defeat the injury bug as well as conference rivals. Junior forward Dejon Barney sprained his MCL in the third game of the year, a setback that was feared to cost him six-to-eight weeks. The training staff worked with him tirelessly and he made it back in four weeks. He hyperextended his knee in the final home game; senior guard Kenny Washington suffered a severe ankle sprain in the game after that. They both were back on the court for the first CCAC tournament game, only to see senior forward Miles Tracy sprain an ankle and dislocate a kneecap.
All three players managed to suit up for the NAIA game, albeit at less than 100%.
Coach Scott Cooper admires his team’s toughness and salutes the players’ ability to find that extra gear when needed. Senior guard Donyell Meredith II, along with Dejon Barney, was named first-team all-CCAC. Meredith put the team on his back in the CCAC quarterfinal match versus Saint Francis, scoring a whopping 22 points in the second half alone, fueling a massive comeback.
“Especially for a senior in his final home game, it was great to see,” Cooper said. “All season long, we kept having that happen – someone would step up right when we needed it the most. At the same time, it turned my hair grey. We never knew who it was going to be.”
Other turning points included junior guard Sam Snodgrass converting a four-point play against Saint Xavier that gave the Titans a one-point lead that they would not relinquish. There were defensive fireworks as well, many of them from senior guard Micah Poole.
“He was on such a tear defensively during the conference tournament. Against Olivet Nazarene, he was matched up with the CCAC Player of the Year (Tyler Schmidt), for the whole game,” Cooper said. “Eventually, our assistant coach Jason Clune looks at me and says, ‘Should we give him a rest?’ and I said, ‘Yeah. On Sunday.’ He was just too good for us to take him out.”
Aside from Barney and Snodgrass, next year’s team will feature a lot of new faces. Fortunately, a 23-8 record and a conference title will be quite helpful in recruiting.
The outlook for both hoops squads for the 2023-24 season is extremely promising.