The Wittenberg Tigers learned at the end of practice Tuesday there likely would be a limited attendance policy at 7:30 p.m. Friday when they were scheduled to play at Mount Union in the Sweet 16 of the Division III tournament. The official announcement came Wednesday morning.
The news got worse Thursday. The entire NCAA Division III tournament, along with all other upcoming NCAA championships in every division, was cancelled.
The only fans in attendance in Alliance would have been family members.
“Can’t control it,” Wittenberg coach Matt Croci said Tuesday. “Can’t do anything about it. It doesn’t really change much about what we’re doing on the floor. Guys are excited to go, and we’re looking forward to it.”
As of early Thursday afternoon, Wittenberg (28-2) and Mount Union (27-3) still planned to play the game, though tournaments around the country were being cancelled, so it was no surprise the NCAA made its announcement later Thursday afternoon.
Wittenberg was denied playing in the the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2012 when it reached the Elite Eight.
“It’s going to be awesome,” senior Connor Seipel said Tuesday. “Probably a great environment. Not as good as it would be because there’s only going to be limited fans, but it’s going to be fun. We’ve been waiting for three years to get here.”
Wittenberg advanced with victories against La Roche and Susquehanna last weekend at Pam Evans Smith Arena. While it was somewhat of a relief to get past the second round after losing at that point the last two seasons, there was no sense that this was a team just happy to be in the third round. The Tigers wanted more.
“They were certainly disappointed about losing in the second round the last couple of years, feeling we were good enough to advance,” Croci said. “I certainly think that drove a lot of the work and focus, but there was no contentment and satisfaction with the win. They’re definitely happy about playing and continuing the season, but they want to keep playing. We’re just as good as anybody and we want to go prove that.”
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