From left: Eva Carchidi `24, Aiyana Rockwell `24, Jordon Ryan `24, Elena Friedman `24 and Erin Lillis `24. The four seniors were honored at the Jimmy Buffet games on Feb. 17.
From left: Eva Carchidi `24, Aiyana Rockwell `24, Jordon Ryan `24, Elena Friedman `24 and Erin Lillis `24. The four seniors were honored at the Jimmy Buffet games on Feb. 17.
Zach Spindler-Krage

Basketball seniors end career as Pioneers

The Grinnell College men’s and women’s basketball teams celebrated their Senior Day with a double sweep over Monmouth College on Saturday, Feb. 17. The Senior Day games — also known as the “Jimmy Buffett games” — saw Darby Gymnasium decked out in a myriad of colors, as spectators donned bright Hawaiian shirts in a basketball-unique tradition to celebrate the graduating players’ last regular match.

The men’s team secured a spot in the Midwest Conference (MWC) tournament, beating Monmouth College 111-86, closing the regular season with a 12-4 record. The women’s team won 81-71 but were unable to advance further in the MWC as they ended their season with a 9-7 record. In between both games, the five seniors — Jordon Ryan `24, Aiyana Rockwell `24, Eva Carchidi `24, Erin Lillis `24 and Elena Friedman `24 — walked the court with their parents, and were honored with flowers and applause.

Friedman, who had been benched for a year due to injuries, said she was glad there had at least been a final home game. “It was a blast,” she said. 

Meanwhile, Ryan said that he was proud of the “good ride” his team had experienced. The men’s team had improved since last year, when they had fallen short of making playoffs. 

Jordon Ryan `24 defends against a Monmouth College player during the Feb. 17 game the Pioneers won 111-87. (Meilynn Smith)

“We were all aware that it was our last game … so we tried to cherish it and just have as much fun as we could,” he said, adding that he felt excited for what was to come.

Although the women’s team did not make it to the tournament, they managed to achieve a record for the most overall and MWC wins in seven years, according to Lillis.

“We learned to rely on each other, to just keep going even when it was hard,” she said. 

Carchidi agreed that a “strong team culture” was one of the highlights of her Pioneer experience. She said the camaraderie behind “doing something you love with your teammates” helped with burnout, a challenge that she said basketball players often faced due to the long seasons.

Eva Carchidi `24 runs past a Monmouth College defender during the Feb. 17 game. (Marc Duebener)

“The seniors guided you and showed you how the team atmosphere is, and then you guide the underclassmen as they come in.” Friedman said about the team’s culture, “We’ve done a really good job supporting each other on and off the court.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic had disrupted much of the team dynamics, and the graduating seniors’ first year as Pioneers.

“There were more first years … but a lot of them took gap years,” explained Ryan, who ended up being the only men’s team athlete graduating in spring 2024. However, he said he had been able to benefit from those circumstances.

“I just tried to get to know everyone,” he said. “I truly see my teammates and culture as a brotherhood.”

The seniors on the women’s team echoed similar sentiments. Friedman said that only being able to train with each other at first due to COVID restrictions was tough, but it resulted in the four seniors forming close bonds that last even today. Rockwell added that they will “continue to visit each other for years on end.”

Aiyanna Rockwell `24 shoots on Monmouth College’s basket during the Feb. 17 game. (Marc Duebener)

The seniors’ college lives had not simply been solely about basketball. They said that Grinnell had provided many unique opportunities for them to branch out into other aspects of student life.

Rockwell and Carchidi, for instance, are also on the track and field team. On top of that, Rockwell became President of the Student Athletes in Social Change Student Board and was able to meet new people through the Asian American Association in her second and third year.

On how they were able to juggle so many commitments, Rockwell said the demands of being a student athlete helped her to develop good time management skills. 

“I’m grateful I had that structure,” she said.

Out of the five seniors, however, only Lillis said she planned to continue playing intercollegiate basketball for a fifth year at the University of Rochester. Carchidi and Rockwell said they would instead continue on their respective graduate schools’ track and field teams, while Friedman said she would consider recreational leagues. As for Ryan, his next goal is to enter the marketing and communications industry. 

“Outside of basketball, I’ve learned how to support the people that are around me,” he said. “As it pertains to the Black community, I’ve learned how to be a community builder, and I think that’d be part of my leadership.”

Regardless of wherever they were going, however, the seniors said that they would carry with them the resilience and commitment they had learned and the team bonds they cherished.

“Our season ended on a disappointing note,” said Lillis. “But at the end of the day, you’re gonna remember the relationships you make and not the specific wins and losses.” 

“We’re very competitive on the floor … but we love each other,” said Ryan. “Next year when I won’t be here, I’ll still be supporting them, coming to the games.” 

He said his greatest hope for the current team was that they could “build upon what we started this year.”

Erin Lillis `24 dribbles the ball as she looks towards Monmouth College’s basket. The Pioneers won the Feb. 17 game 83-71. (Meilynn Smith)
Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *