NORFOLK, Va. -- When Navy women's basketball coach Stefanie Pemper recruited five talented players to Annapolis 3½ years ago, the Mids had never won a league championship, nor gone to the NCAA tournament.
Thursday night, those five seniors saw their careers end as Old Dominion rallied to claim a 68-60 victory in the first round of the Women's NIT.
"It hasn't really sunk in that this was the last game," said senior Audrey Bauer, who led Navy (24-8) with 17 points, and who will be stationed in Norfolk after graduation.
"I guess it will take a few days."
Regardless, the legacy they left behind will be difficult for any succeeding class to match.
Bauer, Kara Pollinger, Jade Geif, Alix Membreno and M.L. Morrison won three Patriot League titles and garnered three automatic bids to the NCAA tournament. They brought unprecedented attention to a program that more often than not, had struggled to win.
"They are the Navy women's basketball program," Pemper said.
Pemper's Mids won the Patriot League regular-season title, but then were upset in the conference semifinals by Holy Cross. Pemper acknowledged that she had to work to get her team prepared for the WNIT after three consecutive seasons in the NCAA tournament.
"I felt like a parent trying to get your kids to do something," she said. "I felt like we really had to educate them. But we did it.
"Tonight was exciting. It definitely had a postseason feel. I really liked our focus, our camaraderie, our effort."
Old Dominion led at the half, 39-30, and by 7 seven minutes into the second half when the Mids rallied.
Bauer swished a 3-pointer, then made a 10-foot jump shot with 12 minutes left to trim the lead to two. Bauer then drove inside, where she drew two defenders, and passed to Chloe Stapleton, who made a 3-pointer to give Navy the lead.
Geif made a layup with 10:50 left to expand the lead to three.
But All-Conference USA forward Shae Kelley then took over for Old Dominion (18-15), scoring 12 points on the Lady Monarchs' next five possessions.
Pollinger made a jump shot with 1:18 left that trimmed the lead to three, but that was as close as Navy got.
Membreno scored 14 points for Navy and Geif and Stapleton had 12 each.
The basketball gods did not smile upon Navy, which had half a dozen second-half shots rim out of the basket, including several from Pollinger, a 44 percent shooter who made just 2 of 11 field goal attempts.
"We just didn't get some bounces," Pemper said.
"I'm obviously disappointed with our season coming to an end. I felt like we kind of let one get away. But I'm really proud of our effort."
Pemper said when the Mids won the Patriot League title in their freshman year, she told herself "to enjoy every year with these kids because they are so special.
"What a ride it has been with them. It's just been a pleasure on and off the court. There has been a ton of laughs, a ton of huge wins, some heartbreak in there. But just a lot of trust, a lot of honesty, a lot of commitment.
"They feel like your kids after they've played so many minutes with you, in so many big games."
Her seniors aren't overly talented she said, but immediately meshed into a close-knit team.
"One by one, they're not going to blow you away, but the way they compliment each other, it's just been beautiful to watch," she said.
"It's been a total joy. They just represented the Naval Academy so well.
"We come to the end of their careers and maybe it's not as bad is it could be because we've just had such a great ride with them."