Ball High alumna Sheridan Hopkins and her St. Thomas Celts had two weeks to prepare for what would essentially be their national championship tournament.
The team’s stay lasted one quarter of one game.
Hopkins heard news of other sports cancellations due to the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, pandemic on that fateful Thursday, March 12, as the Celts got ready for their 6 p.m. tip-off against Bryant & Stratton College (Syracuse, New York) at the USCAA Division I National Championship tournament in Uniontown, Pennsylvania.
“We had the best warm-up — our team was working together, working hard,” Hopkins said. “And then, here comes the game. The game starts, we’re all pumped, we’re all excited, and we’re blowing this team out, 26-10, in the first quarter.
“We were killing it and we were happy and so excited for each other,” Hopkins continued. “Then, all of a sudden after the first quarter ends, these men rush over to the (scorer’s) table and then they walk out with mics in their hands, and I was like, ‘oh boy, I know what’s coming.’ So, they canceled our game after the first quarter.”
The team was stunned and tears began to flow, Hopkins said. For Hopkins, a senior and the Celts women’s basketball program’s all-time leading scorer with 1,936 career points, her college basketball career was abruptly ended with business unfinished.
“We were right there,” Hopkins said. “We only had three games to play to get a ring and to cut down some nets, and that’s really what we wanted to do. It just kind of slipped through our fingers. It’s so sad, but I understand. It’s just so crazy right now. … It’s disappointing, but it’s happening to everyone everywhere, so I know that I’m not in this alone. I’m still shocked about it, and I don’t think it’s really hit me yet.”
In its first year transitioning from NAIA to NCAA Division III and into the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference, St. Thomas was ineligible for the NCAA Tournament. The Celts finished second in the SCAC standings with a 15-3 record, but were also ineligible to compete in their conference tournament.
St, Thomas did meet its own self-imposed criteria to enter the USCAA tournament, doing so as the No. 1 seed out of eight teams and riding a hot streak — having won five straight games and nine of its last 10.
“We were super excited,” Hopkins said. “We were just all ready to play and show up and win. It would’ve been our first year in history, if we would have won, to win a ring and to win a national tournament.”
Also canceled for Hopkins, who was named an NCAA Division III All-American, was an appearance in the Beyond Sports Women’s Collegiate All-Star Game, which was scheduled for this past Saturday in Columbus, Ohio. Averaging a team-high 22.6 points per game and 8.0 rebounds per game, Hopkins was one of only 20 NCAA Division III players selected to play in the all-star game.
“This has been one of the best years for me,” Hopkins said. “Looking back from where I began to where I am now, I feel like I’m a completely different person. This program has really taken a chance on me. My coach took a chance on me and really believed in me, and that’s the most important thing.
“Any award that I get, I can’t thank my team enough, and I can’t thank my coach enough,” Hopkins added. “They know that I’ve worked hard, and they believed in me, and that’s really important.”
As the chair of St. Thomas’ student-athlete advisory committee, Hopkins lamented that social distancing has limited her ability to support her fellow student-athletes during this trying time.
“I’ve got to check on people and make sure everyone is OK, but other than that, I haven’t really been able to do anything for all of the other sports, and I probably won’t be able to until school starts back up again,” Hopkins said.
With her graduation being pushed back to the fall, Hopkins will, in the meantime, be working with her St. Thomas coach, former WNBA and Australian national team player Jae Cross, toward her dream of playing basketball professionally overseas, she said.
“I just want an opportunity to play somewhere and see the world and just be able to say that I did it — to say that I traveled and played professionally overseas,” Hopkins said.
And while her collegiate basketball career did not end the way she wanted — or could have even imagined — Hopkins reflected fondly on a memorable time in the St. Thomas program.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling the way that it ended, but also I was able to experience such joy around them because I had a good group that supported me and worked really hard, at the end of the day,” Hopkins said.