WILLIAMSTOWN — The members of the 2021-22 Williams College men's basketball team are on their own journey in the NCAA Division III Tournament.
The Ephs, and make no mistake about this, are taking a path that many have taken before them.
"To be in the Sweet 16 and to kind of carry on this tradition of success here at Williams," said first-year forward Brandon Roughley. "Last year, when we didn't have basketball, we got on Zoom calls with alumni that were part of successful teams here. It was kind of motivating just to hear their stories. Just to be able to carry on that legacy and be able to compete for a championship here means a lot."
The Ephs left Berkshire County after classes on Wednesday, bound for Bloomington, Ill., for the Sweet 16 round. Williams, who beat Neumann and Stevens Institute of Technology in the first two rounds last weekend, will play Wabash in the first of two Sweet 16 games on Friday. The tip-off is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.
The second game features host Illinois Wesleyan and Wheaton (Ill.). The winners play on Saturday, and the team that survives this pod will advance to the Final Four next weekend in Fort Wayne, Ind.
"It's easy for us not to" think about Fort Wayne, Eph guard Spencer Spivy said Tuesday, before the final practice. "Coach [Kevin App] does a good job of saying, one of his sayings is the most important part of a back-to-back weekend winning the first game. We didn't even know who we were playing in following rounds. We're just focused on Wabash right now."
Williams, now 19-4, enters the Sweet 16 having won five of its last six games. The Ephs were 13-1 on Jan. 22, when COVID-19 issues hit the team. Williams canceled or postponed four games, then lost at home to Wesleyan and at Tufts. Since then, Williams beat Bates to close out the regular season and defeated Amherst and Middlebury in the NESCAC Tournament. After losing in overtime to Wesleyan in the NESCAC title game, Williams went to the University of Mount Union, where the Ephs beat Neumann and Stevens to reach the Sweet 16.
"I would say yes," said Spivy, when asked if he felt the team was in a good spot. "I think emotionally, we're kind of peaking at a good moment. Our confidence is as high as it's been. After the tribulations of COVID, weird losses during the season, we feel really confident."
Williams practiced during its regular time slots on Monday and Tuesday. The players went to class on Wednesday and then traveled to Albany for a flight to Chicago. From there, it was a two-hour bus ride from Chicago to Bloomington. The Ephs will probably arrive at their hotel late Wednesday night, get some rest and then practice on Thursday. App said that the players will take some remote classes on Thursday before practicing at Illinois Wesleyan's Shirk Center.
"You can't be too disappointed when you're one of 16 coaches who still gets to be around their group," App said. "The last few weekends, the confidence, the excitement, the connection has just grown. [Monday], I thought we had one of our best practices of the year. They were just in here having a good time, and I wish we could have let them play longer but they had to get out of here and get some work done."
Williams has been using a 10-player rotation with four sophomores and three first-years seeing quality minutes. One first-year, Declan Porter, starts. Roughley and Evan Glatzer are part of the four-player substitution that App uses early on.
"I'm just happy to be a part of it," said Roughley, the former Wahconah Regional and Salisbury School player, who is averaging 7.5 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. "We have older guys who have been here before, who lead us and take the charge. Just to be practicing with these guys every day and learning from them is really just a great experience. I'm happy to just be a part of it."
While only a first-year, Roughley does understand that there is still room for the Ephs to grow.
"The good thing about our team is that, one through 16, everyone is such a great player and every day we get after it in practice," he said. "Our motto in practice is just get a little bit better every day. I think we do that.
"And I think we still have room to improve."