Remember the old Sesame Street routine, “one of these things is not like the other?”
That’s how the Limestone Saints felt about last season.
One year after beating Merrimack in the 2017 national championship game, the Saints limped through last season and finished 11-8, not even qualifying for the NCAA tournament.
The merely-above-.500 record, while good for some programs, was out of character for Limestone.
Here’s what I mean … take a look at their year-by-year record, including this season.
2019: 20-0 (national title game appearance)
2017: 21-1 (national title)
2016: 21-1 (national runner-up)
2015: 20-1 (national title)
2014: 19-1 (national title)
Now the Saints are back in their regular form, entering Sunday’s national championship game against Merrimack with an unblemished 20-0 record.
“It came down to seniors and leadership,” said Limestone head coach J.B. Clarke. “We met at the end of last year, and it was a little unique for us to have that much time to meet after the season ended with school still going on. We sat down with the rising seniors and asked them what went wrong? They were displeased with the outcome of last year and they wanted to do everything they could do to change it. We asked them questions that we didn’t know the answer to and we had very frank converastions about what had happened and what they felt was important moving forward.
“We knew it had to start right then and now. We had to have a plan for the summer that would allow our leaders to communicate with returning players and hold each other accountable. Teams whose coaches hold them accountable can be good, but teams whose players hold each other accountable can be great. I don’t know if we’re great yet, we’ll find out, but it comes down to seniors and leadership and dedication.”
Clarke said one of the team’s benchmarks coming into the season was to get back to this game on Sunday, where they had been such a familiar face for the four years prior.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was a void last year,” he said. “They know we’re not done, but when you see young people set goals and reach it, it’s great to see. It’s rewarding as a coach to see young people reach their goals. They understand what we want to do.”