When the members of the Williams College basketball teams walked out of LeFrak Gymnasium with their NESCAC Tournament runner-up trophies, the coaches and players had to be hoping at-large bids to the NCAA Division III Tournament would be in their future.
Both the Williams men and women received those at-large bids on Monday. But in order to get to their respective Final Fours, they will have to travel far different roads.
The Williams men will open their NCAA tournament run with a Saturday home game against Wesley (Del.) College. The men are one of 62 teams vying to play in the national championship game in Atlanta on April 7, during the men's Division I Final Four. The game will tip at Chandler Gym at 7 p.m.
The Eph women, meanwhile, will go on the road to face the University of Scranton in the first game of a Friday doubleheader at the University of Rochester. The 64 women's team are looking to reach the Final Four in Holland, Mich., the weekend of March 16.
"Overall, we had a great weekend and we gave it our all out there," said Williams men's forward Taylor Epley, who had a game-high 22 points in the NESCAC title game, but whose potential game-winning shot was blocked by Amherst's Allen Williamson. "The result wasn't what we wanted, but we're really looking forward to the tournament. We think we have a great shot at getting back to Salem."
To get "back to Salem," the Ephs will have to start by facing the Wesley Wolverines. Like Williams, Wesley enters the tournament as an at-large team. The Wolverines lost to St. Mary's (Md.) in the Capital Athletic Conference championship game. Wesley is making its third NCAA Tournament appearance.
The winner of the Williams-Wesley game will play the winner of the Catholic University-College of Staten Island game on March 9, at a site and time to be determined. Catholic is the Landmark Conference champion, while Staten Island won the CUNYAC title.
NESCAC champion Amherst got one of two first-round byes along with Mary Hardin-Baylor. Those two teams won't open tournament play until March 9. Middlebury is the third NESCAC team in the tournament, and the Panthers open Friday against Curry College and former Pittsfield High School star Sedale Jones.
Williams and Amherst are on opposite sides of the bracket and wouldn't see each other until a potential national championship game.
Twice, in 2003 and 2011, Williams beat Amherst to reach the Final Four. In 2004, the Ephs beat the Lord Jeffs in a national semifinal.
Coach Pat Manning's Williams women were undoubtedly disappointed by their performance in Sunday's 53-38 final loss to Amherst. The Ephs get an opportunity to start over in upstate New York against Scranton, an at-large team that lost in the Landmark Conference title game.
"If they give us a shot [at the tournament]," Williams guard Grace Rehnquist said after the game, "we're going to fight. We're going to contend."
A win will put the Ephs into the second round on Saturday against the winner of the game between Rochester and Emmanuel.
Some other Berkshire County basketball players will be going to the NCAA Tournament.
Jones is the CCC player of the year and 12th in the nation in scoring at 22.2 points per game. Middlebury, overtime losers to Williams in the NESCAC semifinals, is an at-large team.
Robbie Burke's Springfield College team lost to WPI in overtime in the NEWMAC final. The Pride will host Empire-8 runner-up Ithaca on Saturday. Burke, a Hoosac Valley grad, had 18 points, 9 rebounds and 4 steals in the loss to WPI.
Taylor DeSanty and her Colby-Sawyer women will play Ithaca at Southern Maine on Friday. DeSanty, who played at Drury, was the tournament MVP in Colby-Sawyer's NAC title win over Castleton State.