Samford Athletics director of video and broadcast services, Jonathan McAfoos, recently sat down with women's basketball head coach Carley Kuhns to discuss the team's record-breaking season. The interview is part of a series focused on giving alumni, fans and friends an in-depth look into the lives of our student-athletes, coaches and staff in the wake of COVID-19.
Kuhns, who finished her first season as Samford's head coach, led the team to a share of the program's first SoCon regular-season title, despite being picked seventh in the preseason Southern Conference polls. The team then earned the program's third SoCon Tournament championship, and the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Less than a week after winning the SoCon Tournament, the team received the devastating news that the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to coronavirus concerns, losing the opportunity to play on the national stage.
"It's crazy all the steps that it took to get there," Kuhns said. "You go from the highest of highs in winning the whole tournament and thinking you're going to play in the NCAA Tournament to, okay, we're going to be playing without fans. And our team was trying to rally as many family members as possible to be able to make this game. So we were still excited about the opportunity to play, even though we weren't going to have fans there. And then once the NBA made their decision, I kind of had a bad feeling about what was going to happen to our tournament, and sure enough, it did."
The nucleus of the team was a group of eight seniors, who led the team to the two championships. Those seniors, however, will miss out on their lone chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. Kuhns said that fact is one of the hardest things about the current situation.
"I'm just heartbroken for my kids and for our program that had worked so hard to earn that opportunity," Kuhns said. "I really feel for our kids, and especially our eight seniors, who really did something special this year and weren't able to see that through."
While the NCAA has talked about the possibility of allowing senior student-athletes to play another year, Kuhns said she thinks it is unlikely to happen for winter sports, due to how late in the season the shutdown happened.
"I think it is going to be really difficult, logistically, to make it happen," Kuhns said. "While I would love to see our seniors have the opportunity to play another year, and I know some of them would absolutely want an opportunity to have another game and play another year, I'll be interested to see if it happens. Just because, for our sport, there were maybe one to four games that we missed out on in our season. So, I think it's a lot less likely than the spring sports to happen, but nothing would shock me, nothing would surprise me anymore, if it were to happen."
Kuhns was named Samford's third head coach in April 2019. She said it has been a special year since her hiring.
"What a journey and a ride it has been," Kuhns said. "I can't believe it's been almost a year. It's been a really special year, especially as a coach to watch the journey of your team and how it came to fruition. What you hoped, and preached and taught all year, for it to happen is really, really special.
"Trying to teach this group how to win was the biggest thing," Kuhns said. "Not just being content with being in the game or just losing by a couple of points to really good teams, but now we're good enough to beat these teams and we have to figure out how to do that. And over the course of the season, I think everyone kind of started to embrace that and buy into that and realize how good we could actually be."
The 2019-20 Samford women's basketball team had one of the most surprising turnarounds in college basketball this season. Despite the team not getting to finish its season in the NCAA Tournament, this team will always be remembered by Samford fans for the special season it had and for laying the foundation for much more success in the future.