For Saint Rose, the big dance is a last dance. An NCAA berth comes in a year the school will close

FILE - Then-Albany head coach Will Brown yells at his team in the second half of an NCAA tournament college basketball game against Oklahoma in the Round of 64 in Columbus, Ohio, Friday, March 20, 2015. The coaching job Will Brown has done in his first year at The College of Saint Rose is impressive. He won’t be at Saint Rose next season. Nobody will be. There is no next season. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon, File)

FILE – Then-Albany head coach Will Brown yells at his team in the second half of an NCAA tournament college basketball game against Oklahoma in the Round of 64 in Columbus, Ohio, Friday, March 20, 2015. The coaching job Will Brown has done in his first year at The College of Saint Rose is impressive. He won’t be at Saint Rose next season. Nobody will be. There is no next season. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon, File)

The coaching job Will Brown has done in his first year at The College of Saint Rose is laudable. The Golden Knights are in the NCAA Division II women’s tournament for the first time in 13 years, plus lead the country in points allowed per game and field-goal percentage defense.

He won’t be at Saint Rose next season.

Nobody will be. There is no next season.

Saint Rose — a 103-year-old college in Albany, New York — plays its next game on Friday when the Division II tournament opens. And that next game, against Daemen, might be the last game ever for the Golden Knights. The school will permanently close later this year because of financial trouble, news that came in the fall and made this season even more of a challenge to navigate.

“I still have a job to do. The players still have a job to do, and what we’ve been trying to do is just make it as positive of an experience as you can with the understanding that these are very difficult circumstances,” Brown said. “Almost nobody else in the country is dealing with what these kids are dealing with, and there’s no manual for how to handle situations like this.”

That said, the Golden Knights seem to be handling it all with relative ease.

They’re 21-6 this season, earning the No. 3 seed in the East Regional that will be hosted by Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts. The Golden Knights got there after being picked to finish 11th in a 12-team league, the Northeast-10. That’s what happens when a team finishes with a losing record 10 times in the last 11 seasons.

But Brown — who took Albany to five NCAA men’s Division I tournaments — was hired before this season, set to coach women for the first time. And he turned everything around there quickly, even after the news that this season would be Saint Rose’s last.

“We want to end on the highest note possible,” standout guard Payton Graber told The Times Union of Albany after the NCAA at-large berth was revealed. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to prove to ourselves and the community and everyone around that we can do it.”

The Golden Knights have proven plenty already. The easiest thing for the team — and all the other teams still playing at Saint Rose — would have been to stop caring long ago. Instead, the fact that it’s everybody’s last season seems to be drawing the school closer together.

Campus is quieter than has been the case in the past, the dining halls aren’t as filled as they normally are, and students acknowledge that classes just have a different feel. Baseball player Stephen Orlando said it’s not just athletes headed to the transfer portal after this season — professors and staff are obviously going elsewhere as well.

“All of this, it’s a shame, but I’m proud of what’s happened here,” said Orlando, a pitcher. “And I know these people here are going to be able to deal with the adversity. It is tough right now. But I know when we look back at this, everyone will say everything happens for a reason. The people here are great. And the people here will do great.”

Last month, athletic director Lori Anctil agreed to return to nearby Siena College, where she worked before coming to Saint Rose. She left on one condition, that being she can still help guide the people at Saint Rose with whatever they need for the final months of the school’s athletic history.

When the news came in late November that the college was closing, Anctil went into crisis mode. She immediately set out to contact every student-athlete, first with a letter, then face-to-face and assured them all that the winter and spring seasons would be completed as scheduled.

The official announcement of the closing came on a Friday, Dec. 1 — the same day that the top-ranked women’s soccer team saw its season end with a 20-0-2 record, tying an NCAA tournament game and not advancing after losing a penalty shootout. That Monday, Anctil had students waiting outside her office.

They weren’t there to complain. They were stopping in to check on how she was doing.

“Saint Rose is a special place,” Anctil said. “They were like, ‘Hey, just want to check in, are you doing OK?’ I couldn’t believe that. So, it was emotional just going through that with them. All they were going through and they’re worried about their AD? The response from our coaches, from our student-athletes, just amazing. They’ve shown such resilience.”

Brown has been on the phone all season trying to find his underclassmen and others new schools. Many will play elsewhere. Some won’t. One of the student workers in the department has been through this scenario before — she came to Saint Rose after her former school, Cazenovia College, also closed. New chapters await everyone.

But this week, there’s still games to play. At least one more game, anyway. Saint Rose isn’t closed yet.

“What this team has done,” Brown said, “is so impressive.”

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AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball

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