If Kahlia Lawrence didn't believe it was reality, there was a nice reminder in her room Sunday morning of what her Mercer women's basketball team accomplished the day before: a championship T-shirt.
The Bears claimed the program's first regular-season conference title in more than 20 years with a win over Furman on Saturday. Mercer finished tied with Chattanooga as the co-champions in the Southern Conference regular-season race, and the Bears will have the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament in Asheville, North Carolina.
Mercer opens the tournament against eighth-seeded UNC Greensboro at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday.
"It actually kind of sunk in Sunday morning when I woke up, and I saw my shirt over on my desk," Lawrence said with a big smile. "And I said, 'Wow, we really did this.' It's an amazing thing to experience with this team and this staff. It's just great."
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Head coach Susie Gardner certainly has enjoyed this team and its accomplishments, saying, "I have been waking up in a really, really good mood."
But Monday, it was time to return to work. The team plans to leave Macon on Tuesday to head to Asheville for Thursday's early game. And the focus for the Bears remains the same, despite what is at stake this week: a conference tournament title and a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
"I'm going to just try to keep it like it's been," Gardner said. "I know it's kind of foolish to say that because we understand the stakes are little bit higher now. But there's no need to change what's worked, and if we're fortunate enough to win the first game, maybe the nerves will start coming in a little bit. But at the same time, anybody in this conference can beat us. We know that. We've had overtime games; we've had close games. By the skin of the teeth, we're conference co-champions, in all honesty."
Mercer finished the regular season at 22-7 overall and 12-2 in conference play. UNC Greensboro was 8-21 and winless in 14 conference games. The Bears won six conference games by single digits, including an overtime game at UNC Greensboro to open conference play in January.
"I'm so excited, and we're going to be excited for a long time," point guard Syndi Means said. "It's been great, but we're ready to play. I wouldn't say we've moved on, but I'm really ready for Thursday. We know what's at stake, and we're getting ready for the next game now."