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Dreams demolished

Special season ends short for Poole, Raiders

Submitted photo / Joey Rees — McDonald product and Mount Union sophomore Braedon Poole scores against Ohio Northern earlier this season. The Purple Raiders had their season cut short by the coronavirus pandemic after reaching a Division III regional semifinal. They finished 27-3 and ranked fifth in the nation.

Braedon Poole is among thousands of athletes nationwide who did not get to see a special season conclude.

The 2018 McDonald High School graduate was a sophomore starter for the Mount Union men’s basketball team this winter.

The Purple Raiders, who set eight school records, posted a 27-3 record and were set to play host to Wittenberg in a regional semifinal on March 13 before the coronavirus threat forced cancellation of collegiate sports.

The win total was a school record, plus they had won a school-record 19 consecutive games and were ranked fifth in the final D3Hoops.com Top-25 Poll.

“No one’s ever ready for a season like this to end,” Poole said. “People always say only one team (in each Division) can finish with a win, and our season ended on a 19-game winning streak. It just sucks to have it end instantly, not with a loss or a win. We had something to prove — that we weren’t just a football school.”

Submitted photo / Joey Rees — McDonald product and Mount Union sophomore Braedon Poole is greeted by his Purple Raiders' teammates during pregame introductions before a game at Ohio Northern earlier this season.

Poole, a 6-foot-5 forward, averaged 7.7 points and a team-high 6.0 rebounds, and shot 56.3 percent from the floor (94-for-167) with 31 blocks. He made 28 starts for the Ohio Athletic Conference champions, who did not lose a home game all season.

“Braedon was a big piece to what we were able to accomplish this year, but he’s going to have to be even bigger next year,” Mount Union coach Mike Fuline said. “He can be really special if he works on his offensive game. He is growing, maturing and evolving in all aspects of the game.”

Poole said he’s ready for the challenge.

“We had three senior starters and so many offensive threats that I didn’t have to be one of the scoring leaders,” he said. “I was just doing my part and trying to do it within the system. But I’ll be a junior and they are looking for more from me next year, so it will be time to step up, just like I did at McDonald as a junior and senior.”

The cancellation of the remainder of the season will likely bring about a motto of “unfinished business” next season. But, FulIne realizes this year’s team was special.

“This one will take a long time to get over,” FulIne said. “This was a very special team. They were playing great basketball and we had great depth. We had all the pieces to have unprecedented success here. The recipe was tremendous.

“We could come at you in different ways and we really cared about defending. It would’ve taken a very good team playing a special game to beat us. Sometimes, a team like this, in Division III, can never be duplicated again. It was magic.”

For any magic to carry over, FulIne said he thinks he will need Poole to become dominant.

“Braedon is so unselfish, almost too unselfish on the floor,” Fuline said. “He needs to change that this summer. He needs to commit himself to being more aggressive on offense. He rebounds so well and defends strong.

“Once he becomes more aggressive and consistent offensively, it’ll be difficult for me to take him off the floor. He won’t be a young guy next year; he’ll be one of our veterans.”

No matter how the Purple Raiders evolve next year, there will always be lingering questions and debates about who may have won the national championship this season. The memories will last for all involved.

“We knew going into the week that we’d be playing in front of a limited crowd due to restrictions over the coronavirus threat,” Fuline said. “We thought we’d be OK. But when the NBA indefinitely suspended its season and we saw conference tournaments getting canceled, you could tell there was a drip, drip, drip and the trend wasn’t good for us. Our kids were eating and (Wittenberg) was practicing on our floor when we got the news. It was devastating.

“The next day we got all of the players, both teams, into the gym and allowed them to cut down the nets. It was something we thought each of them deserved. We wanted to give them something for their hard work that they can take from this. It is a shame to finish things this way. It was pretty emotional, but at the same time, it was understandable.”

This year’s Mount Union team will be one that Fuline never forgets.

“The hardest part was not actually the basketball part,” he said. “There’s not a lot happening on campus and everything will be online for the rest of the spring, so I was driving home and thinking, when will I see these guys again? Will I ever see these seniors again? Will graduation be canceled? Are we going to have a banquet at some point?

“It’s almost like losing part of the family. We didn’t really have time to say goodbyes because we didn’t know that further restrictions were coming. There were no exit meetings or anything like that. To me, that’s the roughest part, not seeing these guys on a daily basis and not knowing what the future holds.”

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