COLUMBIA — Making it to the semifinals of a national tournament is not something college basketball teams in Columbia are used to doing. But the Columbia College men’s basketball team finally broke through last month at the NAIA national tournament in Kansas City.
Tuesday at Southwell Complex, the Cougars' faithful came out to celebrate their team’s runner-up national finish. After beating MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.) 60-56 in the semifinals, Columbia College lost 77-61 to Rocky Mountain (Mont.) College in the national championship on March 24 at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.
The Cougars' four wins in the national tournament exceeded the three they had won in all their previous appearances in the event. They had never made it past the Sweet 16.
Columbia College President Gerald Brouder, the president of the Board of Trustees Daisy Grossnickle, and coach Bob Burchard spoke to the crowd at the celebration themed “ride the wave," which was how Cougars coach Bob Burchard had come to describe the Cougars' run.
Grossnickle got things started by saying, “This is the first basketball team from this city to make it to the Final Four,” which drew many cheers from the crowd.
The large turnout at the celebration impressed Burchard.
“It was awesome. It was an affirmation of how interconnected everybody is and how appreciative everybody is,” Burchard said. “It is a pretty special feeling.”
A table was set up at midcourt, showing the many trophies the Cougars had won this season, along with the net they cut down after winning the American Midwest Conference tournament to earn a berth at the NAIA national tournament.
“It is really gratifying, an experience I can’t put into words,” senior Terrell Turner said. “People I don’t even know have come up to me to congratulate me, some of them watched us on TV. It’s pretty cool.”
A video tribute was shown of the Cougars' great plays, ending with a video of Burchard imitating a surfer in the locker room after a win at the national tournament. Appropriately, Beach Boys music played while Burchard surfed. The players had joked about how Burchard constantly had told the team to “keep riding the wave” after every win late in the season, and later at the national tournament, Burchard started “surfing” by jumping on a table in the Cougars' locker room.
Burchard played off of that theme during his speech by using an analogy about his team as a group of surfers jumping on a wave and staying on it as long as they could, while all of the other surfers were falling off.
The Cougars stayed on the wave as long as they possibly could, before falling to Rocky Mountain.
Burchard, who had just gotten back from the NCAA Final Four in Detroit, joked that all of the fans on the plane ride rooting for the blue and white team (North Carolina) were really fans of the Cougars. Burchard then led “Go Blue, Go White” cheers with the fans at Southwell Complex.
In January, celebrating a trip to the national championship was a dream for the Columbia College men’s basketball team. It wasn’t even the best basketball team at their school and was below .500 in the American Midwest Conference standings. The Cougars’ women's team started 18-1 and were ranked 10th in the country. The women’s team finished 29-5 and made it to the Sweet 16 of national tournament. However, the Cougars' men's team came together when it mattered, winning 17 of their last 18 games before the title game.
At the end of his speech, Burchard jumped on the scorers' table and showed off his wave riding skills one last time, drawing many cheers and laughs from the crowd.