“I think it’s been really hard [for them],” head coach Julie Heisey said. “Those two definitely spur each other on, and it’s difficult for them to not share their senior year together.”
The Falcons (18-8, 11-7 GNAC) finished the regular season last week with a pair of games against Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Fairbanks. They lost to Anchorage on Thursday and beat Fairbanks on Saturday on Senior Night.
Callen, a senior guard, tore her ACL on the third game of the season. She has had to sit on the bench for the rest of the year, but she will be eligible to play next season.
“I’m excited for her [to be able to play next year],” Benson said. “But the selfish side of me wishes that she didn’t tear her ACL and that she was with me this entire season.”
In the two games before her injury, Callen was a major force to be reckoned with. In the first game of the season against Humboldt State, she racked up 18 points and five rebounds.
In the next game against Fresno Pacific, she came up with 20 points, including the game-winning shot with 1.2 seconds left.
When you put Benson and Callen together, they became a dominant duo. They were the top two scorers in each of the first two games and didn’t show any signs of slowing down. Until Callen went down.
“It was really hard when it first happened,” Benson said. “We share a special connection on the court, but luckily it did happen early in the season, and she’s been like another assistant coach to me.”
These two teammates not only share this connection on the court, but off the court as well. They live together, and Callen has been there all season to help push Benson since she can’t be on the court with her.
“It’s been difficult to not finish the year with Katie,” Callen said. “She’s such an amazing player and makes my job a lot easier because I always know right where she’s going to be.”
But Benson wasn’t the only senior that was honored last Saturday. Senior guard Mechela Barnes and senior center Riley Butler were also recognized alongside Benson.
Barnes has been plagued with tendonitis in her knees all season, which has significantly impacted her playing time. As of recently, she has been able to play more minutes and contribute a lot more to the team.
Butler has seen limited action all year as she averages exactly 10 minutes per game. That hasn’t stopped her from averaging about three points and 2.5 rebounds per game.
Before Senior Night, the Falcons played a back-and-forth game against Anchorage last Thursday. AAU took a 68-54 lead with 5:46 left, and it looked like the game was over. But SPU wouldn’t let up and made it a 70-65 game with only 2:41 left. The comeback came up just short as the Falcons turned the ball over on a couple of critical possessions and went on to lose 76-65.
As Saturday rolled around, there was a sense of urgency in the team to get the win for the seniors. While Fairbanks kept the game close for most of the game, they were no match for SPU. The Falcons easily went on to win 69-56.
“[Senior Night] was just awesome,” Butler said. “It was great to experience that with the whole team and really nice to pick up the win.”
Barnes went on to have arguably her best game so far this season. She ended up with 10 points and five rebounds while playing a season-high 20 minutes. Butler also played a nice game as she played 14 minutes and had five rebounds to go along with six points.
By going 1-1 last week, Seattle Pacific ended up in fifth place overall in the GNAC. This means that they will go on to play Simon Fraser on Mar. 5 in the first round of the GNAC Championship.
The western regional poll will also come out on Wednesday, and that will determine where SPU stands when they go on to play in the NCAA tournament. As of last week, the Falcons were ranked fourth out of 10 teams in the western region.
“We just take it one day at a time,” Barnes said. “We’re gonna control what we can control and take it from there.”
So the Falcons aren’t going to look ahead to the NCAA tournament quite yet. They’ll just congratulate their seniors and prepare for Simon Fraser.