All things must come to an end.
With Temple’s 66-55 semi-final loss to Fordham in the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament a tumultuous season finally came to its seemingly inevitable conclusion.
The sun finally set on the Owls’ Cinderella run in the postseason, backpedaling in on a five-game skid only to upset Xavier and then Charlotte. It set on senior center Victoria Macaulay’s career, a steady ascent from a clumsy freshman to a force to be reckoned with.
But most of all it set on the Owls’ A-10 Championship hopes, and coach Tonya Cardoza’s quest for her own conference title.
There was no question about it. While it wasn’t discussed out loud, teams have been gunning for Temple in their final season in the A-10. The Rams just happened to be the ones to finish them off for good.
“It’s actually one of my favorite things that coach [Stephanie] Gaitley does is she gives us a little goal each game,” Fordham senior guard Arielle Collins said. “She said when someone’s leaving the conference you kind of want to finish off with a win, send them off and know that we beat them.”
Temple’s final chapter in their A-10 book has been written. The last few chapters are a great read but, not to spoil the ending, it ends in heartbreak.
The Owls spent the majority of their first 18 seasons in the conference floundering in mediocrity. No titles were to be had, regular season or postseason.
But then former coach Dawn Staley took over the reins in 2000. Just one year later she led the team to their first conference title. After missing out the next year Staley and company returned to the title game the next three years, from 2004 to 2006.
Three trips, three wins.
Two years later Staley left for South Carolina, having won four A-10 Championships in just eight seasons.
Cardoza stepped up to the challenge and found immediate success in the conference. After spending over a decade under Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma’s tutelage, she was more than equipped for the challenge.
In her first season Cardoza led the Owls back to the semi-finals, where they fell to eventually champion Charlotte.
From that point on the Owls established themselves a pattern. Cardoza’s second year at the helm was her most successful, leading the team to a finals loss at the hands of Xavier.
A year later they lost in the semis. Last year, same story.
This year they defied all odds for two games as the No. 10 seed in the tournament, only to lose one last time in the semi-finals. It seemed like history repeated itself for Cardoza.
So that’s it. The past decade-plus of Owls basketball in the A-10 has been something special. From 2001 to 2012 they held a first-round bye in the tournament, and their game against Fordham marked the 13th straight time the program reached the semi-finals. That’s dynasty territory we’re talking about.
But the final seasons left something to be desired. The pieces were there for Cardoza. Each year under her command the Owls had a team that was capable of making a run, but fell just short.
This season, they looked incapable of anything, and stilled pulled off a late-season run. It’s a testament to just how far this program has come over the years.
“I learned a lot from this program and I’ll continue to let it advance my game in the future,” Macaulay said of donning her No. 25 for the final time.
This time next season the Owls may be battling for a Big East Conference—or whatever it’s called by then—title. A new year brings a whole new host of challenges, and with a core of guards in sophomores Tyonna Williams and Rateska Brown returning with another year of experience who knows what may happen.
“The way we ended [this season], that’s the way we need to start,” Cardoza said.
But for now there’s a hole in their hearts from a job left unfinished. For Macaulay, she’ll never have another shot. And really neither do the rest of the Owls, not in the A-10 at least.
“It’s disappointing,” Cardoza said. “Obviously we play this game to win and to win championships. And the fact that this is our last [A-10 season], it’s very disappointing.”
One day, when the sun has set on all of their careers, players and coaches will look back on these past few seasons as a special time.
They’ll remember the battles, the struggles and the sheer domination they had for five seasons under Cardoza in the conference even if they never got to hoist the trophy. This team in particular will remember their improbable run the past few days and how they wouldn’t give up even when the odds were so heavily against them, playing their best basketball when it mattered most.
But for now, it’s emptiness. Temple leaves with four A-10 Championships, nothing more. Cardoza leads the team into a murky future. She leaves with a tournament record of 7-5. Her winning percentage of .583 makes her the winningest coach in the A-10 Tournament without a title.
But with the sunset comes the eventual sunrise. A new era is about to begin, and it should be a fun ride.
Jake Adams can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @jakeadams520.