The number seven. To most, it is just another number on the number line, but to the Bethany Men’s Basketball team, seven represents the number of players who have made their mark on the court and in the record books, but who now hang up their jerseys.
For seniors Patrick Garvin, Alex Weldon, Gavin Kroehler, Derek Peterson, Michael Knight, Garrett Benson and Deon Wright, basketball has always been a part of who they are. Whether it was watching their siblings play or their dads coach, basketball was always there.
“I had a hoop in my backyard and every summer I would be shooting hoops out there the whole day. My dad would have to get me to come inside for food, but I would just stay out there,” said Benson.
With all having memorable grade school and high school careers, which included state championships, personal milestones and great memories, it seemed to be a given they would continue playing at the college level.
“I actually decided to not play my first year. I went to Minnesota State University – Mankato, and thought I didn’t want to play anymore. But after a semester I realized I missed it,” said Kroehler.
In the end, Bethany ended up being the decision for all seven guys – seven guys who barely knew each other, but who would put on a Vikings jersey and start their college basketball career.
“I remember it was at St. Olaf, and just being able to put it on and look in the mirror and say ‘hey, I’m a college athlete’ was pretty cool,” said Peterson.
After having a tough season their freshman year, and then the loss of the only college coach they had known at the end of their sophomore year, suddenly the “Senior Seven” were at a crossroads of sorts.
“A lot of things happen in life that you can and can’t control, and that was definitely one of those times where yeah, it sucked, but we really had no control on what had happened and had to move on. I think that the maturity that the team took in staying here for each other said a lot – showed how much we cared about each other and for the fact that we are playing because we love the game,” said Weldon.
With a new head coach David Balza coming in, the Vikings were ready for a new start.
“Balza came in with more knowledge than anybody I have ever imagined knowing about basketball – realizing his terms and plays was kind of confusing. I think we finally realized our potential when we beat Augsburg at their place. That was a season turning point in the non-conference season. The conference started, and we just started rolling,” said Kroehler.
“Started rolling” would be putting it lightly though. In the 2012 conference season, the Vikings did not just go 5-0 or 8-0 but 13-1, a record that gave them the UMAC (Upper Midwest Athletic Conference) championship, which was a first in school history.
“It was a blast. [At] Scholastica…throwing up the ball and seeing all of us running around like chickens with our heads cut off because we just won the conference tournament was a memorable moment,” said Peterson.
Although the victories were sweet in and of themselves, all seven seniors agreed that it was the fan section, which is better known as the Red Sea, that made not just those games better, but the whole season.
“I had an interview with Julie [Thomas] last year and she asked me how I felt about the Red Sea, and I said ‘without no Red Sea, there is no us.’ Whenever I was down, all I had to do was step on that floor and hear them chanting ‘defense’, ‘Deon’, ‘D. Wright’ – anything along those lines – that just changed my mood and I was back into it. A lot of my actions and the way I played was because of them,” said Wright.
“The Red Sea definitely gave us that six man advantage and teams got affected by that. To just hear them chanting and getting our team going is always a good feeling,” said Knight.
Although the Vikings did not get as far as they may have liked this year, the seniors know that looking back on their career they have nothing to be ashamed of.
“Throwing down that banner…you don’t see any other banner in there, so it was sweet to put our mark on that. The expectations were obviously high for this year having everyone back. We fell short, but we have nothing to hang our heads about. We made history here and that is special in and of itself,” said Weldon.
While the seven seniors will be remembered for their amazing four years wearing their Vikings jerseys and leaving their mark on the basketball program, in the end, it comes down to the relationships and memories they built with each other.
“I remember [freshman year] in September and early October, we would go to open gym, and come back to the dorms and talk about how good our team was – we just knew we were the best team. We started and went 0-8, 0-12 to start the year. It’s crazy to think we have came from that. I told someone the other day that I came to Bethany with two brothers, but I am definitely leaving with more than I can count,” said Garvin.