Saints Set Green and Gold Standard

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb… Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan, ‘press on’ has solved, and always will solve, the problems of the human race.”

-Calvin Coolidge

I looked for quite some time to find the right words for this year’s team. I’m happy that a man known for few words and taking afternoon naps was able to do the job for me. Press on. It’s so simple, yet its that simplicity that gives poetic justice to the 2011-12 Siena Saints.

There should have been no surprises to this season’s team. For 31 games the Saints rolled out essentially the same six man rotation with few exceptions. Yes, there was the brief Davonte Beard experience that sustained the team through Owen Wignot’s early season injury, and Marcus Hopper made cameo appearances throughout the season, but for the most part when you scouted this team you knew what you were getting. Kyle Downey, Owen Wignot, Brandon Walters, OD Anosike, and Evan Hymes with Rob Poole off the bench. Six guys. A ragtag group of oft injured, under used, under valued, and under recruited players.

The group was left for dead by many fans and pundits alike. How could a team, so beaten by injury and hampered by eligibility rulings, have a chance to succeed. They were picked to finish sixth before those issues arose. To some a season of five wins or fewer seemed possible, or even destined to occur. Thankfully, these Saints didn’t buy into the same train of thought.

Late in the preseason Ryan Rossiter reached out to the team, conveying a message of hope. He took some time to tell us about those thoughts shortly before the season opener vs Navy.

“I pretty much told them to ignore what everyone is saying and focus on what they have. People love to speculate and assume things, however the team still knows what they have in the locker room and what they’re capable of. I think they can be a very dangerous team this season, especially with everyone writing them off. If they are willing to do the “little things” diving on every ball, taking charges and making the extra pass they will be fine this season. Most importantly I told them to stay together through everything, I don’t think that will be a problem at all. There is a lot of character in that locker room and great senior leadership between the four seniors”.

As the season wore on, Rossiter’s message became almost prophetic. The team did the little things. Rob Poole taking a massive charge against Navy, displaying early on that the freshman was ready to play on the D1 stage. Evan Hymes displaying his blazing speed and competitive edge from the beginning, dropping 30 on Mount St Mary’s and never backing down from an opponent, regardless of size. Kyle Downey sacrificing his body on a nightly basis, always moving, always outworking the defender. The  list goes on.

This team pressed on through shear determination, sticking together as a team through it all.

“We all stuck together the entire year,” said Downey. “This is probably the closest team I have ever been on. There was no real rivalry for playing team, because you know, whoever plays you better do well because you’re the only option.”

Overwhelmingly, play well they did. They beat the much hyped MAAC favorite Iona in late January. They beat MAAC runner-up Fairfield. They advanced to the MAAC semifinals in an instant classic against a favored Manhattan club. The standard at Siena is to compete for a MAAC title every season, this team was a mere 66 minutes away from one (the last time they held a lead in the season).

Never in my years of watching sports have I found it so easy to root for a team. Day in and day out, the hustle and heart this team displayed on the floor made it impossible for all but the most callous of individuals to be won over. Scott Knapp said it best on twitter following the Saints loss in the semifinals to Loyola.

“One of the most impressive Siena Basketball seasons I’ve ever seen. Never has so much been done with so few guys…Proud to be a Saint!”

I could not have summarized it any better. Cliche or not, it was a pleasure to watch and root for this team this season. I truly hope that this attitude can be duplicated in years to come, becoming the green and gold standard of the attitude all future Saints should strive for. Credit the coaching staff, credit the players, all bought into the philosophy of teamwork, perserverance, and determination. This team might not have been the most talented on paper, but it was determined to outwork their opponent every night.

“This year we got the most out of this team, and exceeded eveyones expectations,” said Downey. “Out of the four years I’ve been here, this is the team I’m most proud of.”

We as fans were proud of this year’s team as well. They didn’t go out as MAAC Champions, but in the eyes of this writer, they did anything but lose this season.

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