It was an emotional day in the Municipal Auditorium when the Racers’ season came to an abrupt end.
After losing against Eastern Kentucky in the OVC Tournament, Murray State had only next season to look forward to when the team packed its bags and went home.
“I thought we did some nice things defensively,” said Head Coach Rob Cross. “Early in the game, we were doing a good job rebounding in the first 12-14 minutes.”
Despite being a No. 8 seed in the OVC tournament, the Racers seemingly had a chance to advance against No. 5 Eastern Kentucky.
The first half was largely in Murray State’s control, leading by a 14-7 margin. Before the Racers could declare victory and advance to the next round, the Colonels reclaimed the game to make an upset.
“I kind of saw it dwindle in the middle of the second half,” said Mariah Robinson, senior guard. “We stuck it out until the end and played hard. I’m very proud of the team and how we ended the game.”
Before the final game, the regular season ended positively when the team finished with a 16-13 overall record and broke even with an 8-8 conference record.
The final weeks before the competition were turbulent for the Racers when they added on a four-game losing streak.
In the preseason, Cross said he recruited an impressive roster. Freshman guard Erika Sisk, guard/forward Christy Soldo and forwards Kelsey Dirks and Bianca Babic each brought individual talent to the program, and in some cases even outperformed the upperclassmen.
Sisk was honored as OVC Freshman of the Year and named to the OVC All-Newcomer team. She led all freshmen in the league, averaging 13.8 points per game and earned the OVC Freshman of the Week title nine times.
“I think next time I know what it feels like and what to do to help my team out more,” Sisk said. “Every game I try to do more and more to help my team out, so now I’m just looking for the next season.”
Dirks brought a much needed height advantage to Murray State’s defense and also put in work offensively, earning two double-doubles this season. She currently averages 6.1 rebounds per game and adds accuracy in the free throw category, shooting for 68 percent.
“We’ve got to give (Dirks) the ball more next year,” Cross said. “I think she has a chance to develop into a really nice player. With her and Erika Sisk in the future, I think we’ve got a chance to make some runs over the next few years.”
The freshmen were not the only players to have a historic personal season. Robinson earned her place in the record books after ranking seventh on Murray State’s all-time scoring list with 1,583 points. She also pulled down over 500 rebounds during her career. Alongside Sisk, Robinson was also honored in the OVC tournament when she made the OVC All-Conference team.
“I can’t say enough about how much (Mariah) has done for Murray State and for young people in general,” Cross said. “She’s a great mentor.”
As team captain, she led the Racers with 16.5 points per game and a 37.1 3-point percentage. Her success beyond the arc earned her the record of the most 3-point shots made in program history.
After a season of individual improvement and vital addition, the team still has the incentive to improve when entering a new season in terms of the new freshmen maturing into solid starters.
Losing Robinson as well as forward Kyra Watson and guard Tessa Elkins will be a challenge next season for the Racers.
Said Cross: “The Ohio Valley Conference and everybody else should be proud of the product that these young women put on the floor.”
Story by Carly Besser, Assistant Sports Editor.