College basketball returned to Goshen last weekend, as the Goshen College women’s basketball team won two games at the Ruth Gunden Memorial Classic while the men fell to the University of Northwestern Ohio.

“We sure are energized, and we’ve got a lot of talent,” said Stephanie Miller, the women’s head coach, after the Goshen team’s 75-68 comeback victory over William Jessup University, a private California school. 

“We’re very young,” Miller said, “and you can see that. We’re making a lot of mistakes…we’re not really 100% sure about anything. I think it’s just gonna take some time for us to really understand how to play together [but] I was really excited about the game.”

If that game was any sort of preview, the season is going to be electric to watch. The Leafs came back from a 15-point deficit to win. Up six at the half, William Jessup launched a 12-3 run to start the second half, taking a 51-36 lead.

The Warriors brought a 12-point lead into the fourth quarter, but the tide started to turn when senior Sa’drea Rougeau stole the ball and sank a three-pointer to cut Jessup’s lead to seven. Immediately after, Kyla Foster picked up another steal, feeding fellow sophomore Syanne Mohamed, whose jump shot forced the Warriors to call a timeout after seeing their lead dwindle to just five.

The timeout did little to stop the Leafs’ momentum; after forcing a turnover, Rougeau scored again. The Leafs took their first lead since the first quarter with 5:22 left in the game when Foster hit a three to put Goshen up 61-60. Her shot kicked off an 11-0 run for the Leafs and gave them a lead they never relinquished.

The Leafs followed up their victory the next day by soundly defeating Trinity International University, 79-51, to go 2-0 at their home tournament. Rougeau was the leading scorer in both games, with junior transfer Zion Neat scoring double digits in both games as well. 

While the Leafs are a young team, Miller says that their showing in the last two days reflects their leadership skills. “This is the most leaders I’ve ever had on a team,” Miller said. “And we’re almost in our way a little bit, because we’ve got so many kids who have great leadership skills.”

Miller went on to list seven different players, describing their individual roles with the team and how they lead on the court or off it. While Mohamed, Neat and Kiana Oren were all mentioned, Miller wanted to highlight her captains.

Sophomore Kyla Foster is the “floor leader” for the Leafs, directing play and running the court. Miller described her as the team’s “general.” According to Miller, junior Sophia Eli is the “vocal leader and kind of our Energizer Bunny.” And fifth-year Emily Brandeberry, who didn’t play on Friday but scored once on Saturday, is the “anchor” of the team.

“She is an anchor for us in terms of just maturity. [She’s a] full-character kid who gets it, and everybody respects her so much.”

The Leafs look to continue their unbeaten run on Wednesday, when IU-Kokomo comes to Goshen for a 7 p.m. matchup.

Meanwhile, the men’s team dropped a close game to the University of Northwestern Ohio,  84-81, as the Racers fought back from a 17-point deficit. The men’s head coach, Kyle Capps, says he’s ready for this kind of adversity.

“We’ve already been experiencing a lot; a lot of injuries and whatnot,” Capps said. “So we’re just trying to lay the foundation: emotionally, physically, spiritually.”

In his first year as head coach, Capps inherits a program that has faced serious struggles in recent years. Goshen hasn’t won more than 10 games in a season since going 11-19 in the 2017-18 season. Last year, the Leafs were 7-23 — an improvement from the two previous years, when they won just seven games across both seasons.

“We’re small this year,” Capps said when asked about what he wants to see in the team this season. “So we have to be tough. We’ve got to make sure that we’re not laying down and just letting people walk all over us. That’s been the history of Goshen in recent years…no. We’ve got to fight at all times.”

Although the team lost on Saturday, there were bright spots for the Leafs. Greg Johnson II dropped 26 points and added six steals for the Leafs, and Elias Ramirez scored 19.

When asked if he had a “theme” for the year, Capps said no.

“We’re just going to let it figure itself out,” he said. “Let God speak to us and just talk to us and get the understanding of what is this collective…right now, it seems like that message is going to be: end far, far away from where we started.”

Although he didn’t call it a theme, Capps kept going back to the topic of growth. And with the recent history behind the men’s basketball program, that growth is going to be much needed.