Photo Credit: hartfordhawks.com
One-year ago, the University of Hartford Hawks had their dreams of winning the America East Conference shattered after the league decided to cancel the championship game due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Hartford had their bags packed and was ready to travel up to Vermont to take on the America East powerhouse, the Vermont Catamounts, who had played in the championship game each of the previous four seasons.
For Hartford though, it was the teams first time playing in the championship game since 2008. However, just before making the trip up to Vermont, Hartford head coach, John Gallagher received a call that the game was canceled. In that moment, Hartford’s dream quickly turned into a nightmare.
Fast forward a year later, despite a season faced with many obstacles and the dreadful unknowns, the Hawks had a chance to rewrite the wrong. Hartford, who finished the regular season with an overall record 15-8, headed into the America East tournament as the number four seed and had a shot at redemption.
At the finish line was the trophy waiting for them to bring back to "the neighborhood" as coach Gallagher calls it, if his team could just knock off the opponents that remained in the way.
After taking down both the Binghamton Bearcats, and then the University of Albany, the Hawks had a familiar foe standing in their way to get back to the America East championship game; the Catamounts. Led by both senior Austin Williams, and grad student Traci Carter, the Hawks spoiled the Catamounts season, winning by a score of 71 - 65, and were heading back to the championship game for the second straight season.
With help from the basketball gods, the Hawks finally got their chance to play in the America East Conference Championship game. Now, the Hawks had just one more thing that stood in their way from being crowned champions; the high scoring offense of number six seed, the UMASS Lowell River Hawks.
During the regular season, the Hawks and River Hawks played each other twice with both teams coming away with a victory. After splitting the regular season series 1-1, the Hawks remained 40 minutes away from seizing the opportunity that the team was robbed of one-year ago.
In the first half of the game both teams had struggled to get anything going on the offensive side of the ball as the Hawks made just 24.14% of their attempted field goals (7 for 29), but the high powered offensive of the River Hawks did not perform much better making just 28.57% of their attempted field goals (8 for 28). Yet despite both teams offensive woes, Hartford managed to take a five point lead, with a score of 23 - 18 going into halftime.
In the second half, with both teams clawing at a chance to be named America East Conference champions and earn a spot in the upcoming March Madness Tournament, Hartford was able to dig deep and finish a task that the team had been dreaming of each of the last 364 nights.
Not only was Hartford able to improve on their first half struggles and make 20 out of their attempted 55 shots in the second half, but the team was able to keep the River Hawks in check and prevented them from getting in an offensive rhythm. In the end, not only did the Hawks force the River Hawks to shoot poorly both in and out of the perimeter, but Hartford was able to build a lead that was too much for UMASS Lowell to overcome.
Ball game over. Hartford 64, UMASS Lowell 50.
As the final horn buzzed, coach Gallagher and the rest of the team embraced one another after they finally earned their moment that the program had been desperately waiting for; being named America East Champions and heading to the March Madness Tournament for the first time in school history.
After a year of sleepless nights wondering “what if,” coach Gallagher and the Hawks can bury the past behind them, because in the end, the Hawks are finally champions.
Photo Credit: hartfordhawks.com