They walked off the Gill Center court one at a time, each player receiving an ovation from the fans and high-fives from their coaches and teammates.
Moments later, after being replaced by substitutes, McDaniel's three seniors sat next to each other on the bench. Only then did Sarah Bach, Alyssa March and Karli Zeps let their emotions flow.
More than five minutes remained in Saturday's game against Muhlenberg, and the Green Terror's deficit hovered near 30 points. The Mules were in command, with a spot in the upcoming Centennial Conference tournament already secured. McDaniel, meanwhile, was trying to salvage its season finale while honoring the trio of veterans on Senior Day.
Things didn't go the Terror's way in a 78-50 loss, but the tears shed weren't ones of immediate disappointment. It's just that Bach, March and Zeps weren't ready to call their college careers finished.
"In the beginning, freshman year, you really don't know what to expect," said Bach, a Manchester Valley graduate, who began as a walk-on. "Then, as you start to build relationships with the girls on the team, your basketball gets better. Just every day continues to get better. ... The biggest thing I've taken out of it is being together with a group of girls and becoming a family."
McDaniel finished this season at 11-14 (9-11 in conference play), and the Green Terror missed the playoffs for the first time in four years. Bach, March and Zeps together helped the Terror win nearly 80 games since they arrived on the Hill — a run that included a conference title, three Centennial tournament berths and an NCAA tourney appearance.
"If anything, I think we started building up our freshman class," said March, who averaged 8.2 points and 7.6 rebounds this year. "You have your junior and senior class who have played in two championships, and the sophomore class one, so now it's taking in the new girls and trying to pick them up and carry on with the level of play that we need in order to get back to the conference championship."
March, a 6-foot forward from Fallston, wrapped up her fifth year on coach Becky Martin's team after missing last season because of a knee injury. She returned this winter as a graduate student, and finished her career with a double-double Saturday (13 points, 11 rebounds).
It wasn't enough, however, to keep the Mules (18-7, 15-5) from spoiling McDaniel's final game of the season. Muhlenberg, which lost to the Green Terror earlier this season, shot better than 52 percent, hit 10 3-pointers, and led by as many as 33 before it was over. Rachel Plotke sank four 3s and finished with 14 points, while Emilie Benton had 13 and Brandi Vallely scored 12.
Zeps, a 5-10 forward, finished with eight points, and Bach, a 5-9 post player, had three to go with five rebounds. Bach finished the year with 10 starts and 3.3 rebounds per game.
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Zeps played basketball and lacrosse when she came to McDaniel, but gave up her spring sport to focus on becoming a better player on the court. It worked — the Seton Keough grad averaged 9.0 points and 6.2 rebounds this winter, and ended her college career with 921 points.
"It was a nice change of pace, especially for me because I wasn't really close with my high school [basketball] team," Zeps said. "I grew a lot personally, and built a lot of friendships, someone I can call family now."
Martin had tears of her own following the loss, but the longtime coach also got to get a glimpse of things to come. She used 16 players Saturday, and the final five-plus minutes featured several underclassmen.
Her 36th season as McDaniel's coach is behind her, but Martin doesn't seem to be ready to leave her post.
"The end of a long year," said Martin, who was still shouting out instructions from the sideline in the waning seconds of Saturday's lopsided loss. "That's what a coach does. It's always about, how can you improve and how do you move on."