Saints defeat Warriors in NAIA semifinals

Carroll College men’s basketball players Chase and Match Burnham hug following the Saints’ 66-55 win over Lewis-Clark State in the NAIA National Semifinals Monday night at the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo. Carroll will face Georgetown College Tuesday night for the NAIA National Championship.

HELENA — There are many residual benefits to being in the national championship game.

And Carroll College hopes to maximize what can come out of the men’s basketball team’s accomplishments.

The Saints lost to Georgetown College of Kentucky 68-48 on Tuesday night in Kansas City, Missouri, when they played for their first national title in program history.

Even in defeat, it didn't dampen what the Saints accomplished this season.

"Our college is so proud of its athletes," Carroll College President John Cech said. "Our motto has always been that we are as competitive in the classroom as we are on the courts or fields."

Carroll, once again, was at the forefront of small school athletics. The Saints are familiar with the spotlight with six football national titles, but the last time that happened was in 2010.

“It’s the value of athletics,” athletic director Charlie Gross said. “It represents the team more than who is playing. When things like this happen it becomes a point of pride for the athletic program and school.”

Internally, once one program reaches this kinds of success, other teams want to be the next one on the national stage.

The football program is rebuilding with new coach Troy Purcell, and spring practice begins Friday.

And the women’s basketball team has been close to national championships. Will coach Rachelle Sayer’s program be the next to being home the big trophy?

“It can be an inspiration for all athletes and programs,” Gross said. “It extends the brand of Carroll on a the national platform. You can’t put a price on that in this world — getting your name out there in a reputable way. Awareness gets Carroll on the mind and Carroll on the mind is a good thing.”

People around the country will wonder where is Carroll College, and find out about Helena, Montana.

Potential students will discover the private Catholic college and its high academic standards.

Enrollment tends to go up with successful athletic programs, going back to the pride successful sports brings to a campus.

Tickets sales could increase next season. More sponsorship and corporate partners may be willing to invest.

“You plan for success when this happens," Gross said. “You have to be ready for it. You have to be ready for community engagement. When you are able to demonstrate excellence, it does attract interest.”

What’s most satisfying for Gross is who made this happen. He’s not only impressed with what new coach Kurt Paulson accomplished, but with the players.

They are coming off a fall semester where the team grade-point average was 3.29. The players are graduating, staying out of trouble and helping in the community.

“We are celebrating at the national level with people doing well on the court as well in the classroom,” Gross said. “We know they are going to do great things in life. Ultimately, our athletic program is an extension of the classroom. When things like this happen in a positive way we want capitalize on it.”

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