Eph seniors lead the way to national title game
SALEM, Va. -- When an athlete is recruited to a particular school, there are usually no guarantees. That goes for playing time to contending for championships.
The members of the Williams College class of 2014 who are here for the NCAA Division III Final Four understand that as much as anybody. They have also had some unprecedented success.
Of the four seniors on this year's Williams roster, three of them wrapped up their fourth year of varsity basketball on Saturday afternoon in the national championship game against Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Mike Mayer, Taylor Epley and John Weinheimer have been four-year varsity members. The fourth member of the class, Matt McCreary, came to Williams after his freshman season.
For Mayer, Epley and Weinheimer, it's been a run of unprecedented success.
How's this for a resume? In four years, Williams had a 90-21 record. The Ephs have made three trips to Salem in four years, two of them to the Final Four and last year's run to the Elite Eight.
"It's unbelievable," said Weinheimer.
And let's not forget Hayden Rooke-Ley, who came in with the trio but due to a medical redshirt, will be back to play for the Ephs next year.
"When I got here, we came here and I feel like I almost took it for granted. This is what happens," said Weinheimer. "I just look around and see how much hard work goes into it."
Weinheimer, a 6-foot-6 forward from River Forest, Ill., has been one of Mike Maker's "energy guys" off the bench. He has played in all 32 of Williams games, averaging 2.6 points per game. He did come up big with 11 points in an 84-76 win over Washington (Md.) College back in December.
"To be in the Final Four, it's almost surreal," said Weinheimer.
Of the three, Epley has been the most active on the court in Salem. On a Final Four team with five upperclassmen in the regular rotation, the 6-5 forward from Louisville, Ky., averaged 6.1 points per game in nearly 18 minutes of play. He played in 31 of the Ephs' 32 games that year.
"Honestly, I catch myself taking it for granted sometimes," said Epley. "I think back on it and it's been an amazing career."
Epley also said that getting to Virginia as a freshman made him feel like this should be a regular thing.
"In a way I expected it," said Epley. "Mike and I came here our senior year of high school and we saw the success they had. We expected it. In a lot of ways, we've done our part and we've earned it."
Unlike Epley, Mayer watched the first Final Four trip from the bench. That year, it was hard for the 6-9 center from Durham, N.C., to get on the floor with Troy Whittington, Brian Emerson and Sean Hoffman in front of him. After missing out in his sophomore year, Mayer helped lead the Ephs to the Elite Eight last year and a return trip now.
"I saw how hard it was to get here freshman year. To be back here twice in the last two years, I feel incredibly blessed," said Mayer.
For Mayer, it was playing on Williams' 17-8 team in his sophomore season -- a season that most college players would take home in a minute -- that helped fuel the fire to return to the land of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
"I think sophomore year, it was kind of a wake-up call, how hard it really is to get back," said Mayer.
To reach Howard Herman:
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On Twitter: @howardherman.