2010. What a year it was for the Runnin Royals.
EMU finished with a record 25 wins, finished second in the ODAC with a 14-2 record and, most importantly, advanced to their first NCAA tournament ever. But they weren’t content to just be there…they were there to make noise.
Take out Centre? Check. Knock down Wilmington (OH)? Check. Advance to the Elite Eight by beating Whitworth? Check. Unfortunately, that’s where the Cinderella story ended as Guilford, a team the Royals had just beaten by 27 a month earlier, picked up a 10-point victory over EMU, 90-80, ending its historic season.
Now, more than a decade later, that team still remains one of the most successful in EMU history and they’ll be back on campus Saturday, Feb. 5, for a reunion event hosted by EMU Athletics and Alumni Relations.
“Several years prior to that season, I had given an interview where I made the statement that I’d like to win a national championship at EMU,” said Kirby Dean, former head coach of the Royals. “The statement was so ludicrous at the time when considering the history of our program that I was literally embarrassed when I heard the interview. So to be knocking on the Final Four’s door several years later was as gratifying as any athletics experience in my life. That entire season and yearend run remains a highlight of my life and the relationships formed and developed during that time are a bond that will never be broken.”
When this year’s Royals squad takes on Lynchburg, many of those familiar faces will be back in Harrisonburg, albeit in a different capacity. The 2009-10 team will be honored at halftime of the men’s game, followed by a reception in the Royals Den at 4 pm and a brief program and digital presentation in the Main Stage Theatre at 5 pm. That presentation will include video clips of the team’s historic run and remarks from Dean.
The roster included Cutter Chisnell, Eli Crawford, Martin Harrison, DJ Hinson, Luke Holloran, George Johnson, Eric King, Jonathan Leaman, Owen Longacre, Orie Pancione, Todd Phillips, Chase Smith, Andrew Thorne, Austin Twine, and Jessi White.
The team was coached by Dean and assistant coaches Bill Hale, Carey Keyes and Mat Huff.
“I am really looking forward to the reunion of this team,” said Director of Athletics David King. “It has given me a chance to reflect, not so much on what they achieved, but on what their success has had on EMU athletics and the university and the lessons they taught us. While we didn’t experience a significant enrollment boost, their success put EMU “on the map” in the basketball world and made EMU a destination for high school players. Their success brought the campus, the local community and our alumni together in special ways. They proved that “it can be done” at EMU and provided a model for achieving that level of success. Lessons abound from their demonstration of commitment, unity, unselfishness, hard work, team bonding, perseverance and campus connectedness to name just a few. It was a special group of people who together reached special levels of success.”
Along with this recognition, the 2009-10 team will also be inducted into the Eastern Mennonite Athletics Hall of Honor later in 2022. They will become just the fifth team inducted and the first basketball team to go into the hall.