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The Journal Gazette

Friday, March 15, 2019 1:00 am

NCAA Division III Final Four

Swarthmore in uncharted territory

Young squad faces team honed by series of injuries

ELIZABETH WYMAN | The Journal Gazette

At a glance

What: NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Championships

When: Today: Swarthmore (Pa.) vs. Christopher Newport (Va.), 6 p.m.; Saturday, semifinal winners, 7 p.m.

Where: Memorial Coliseum

Swarthmore has long been a laughingstock, athletically. While the academics shine, the athletics have been a less than an ideal landing spot for college athletes.

But the No. 6 Swarthmore men's basketball team has a date with No. 9 Christopher Newport (Virginia) today in the school's first-ever NCAA Division III national semifinal at Memorial Coliseum.

“It's a surreal feeling just to be able to still be playing basketball at this point,” Swarthmore senior Cam Wiley said. “My freshmen year playing at this stage was the goal, but it wasn't going to be an immediate result.”

Swarthmore (Pennsylvania) sported just an 11-14 record in 2014-15 season.

Since then, the Garnet (28-3) has posted at least 22 wins a year.

“Being at this point my senior year is just indicative of all the work and progress we've made as a program,” Wiley said.

Wiley, averaging 14.7 points, leads a Swarthmore team that plays three freshmen. Coach Larry Kosmalski doesn't think inexperience will be an issue despite playing a Christopher Newport team that has been here before.

“I think experience is not just by age, but by how much game time you've had and how many adverse situations you've had, so I think if you take it in that regard we're pretty experienced,” Kosmalski said.

One guy with a lot of experience is Christopher Newport's Marcus Carter. As a sophomore, he led the Captains to a Final Four appearance in 2015-16, but he has been hampered with injuries since, injuring his ankle in what would have been his senior year season-opener a year ago.

“Embrace the moment,” Carter said. “There's only a small amount of college athletes that can reach the Final Four. You really want to enjoy the experience, but it's a business trip too.”

Carter has missed time this year with injury in addition to a Captains (29-3) team that can't seem to stay healthy. Still, coach John Krikorian said he thinks the team is better for it.

“That experience allowed a number of different guys to step up it made us stronger,” Krikorian said. “The belief these guys had in each other and how special we can be never changed.”

That does make the Captains unique. A team that has been forced to get deeper in wake of injuries has learned to play without their star for much of his college career.

While Carter averages 16.8 points, sophomore Jason Aigner has stepped up. He's averaging 15.4 points. And he's just happy to be here.

“It's been a dream come true. You grow up playing basketball, watching March Madness growing up and you want to make it here,” Aigner said.

“You can't describe the experience. There's nothing better than playing this time of year.”

The quest for both team's first national championship begins at 6 p.m. today.