Every coach hates to say good-bye to a group of senior players once their team’s season comes to an end, but no one dislikes this more than Mount Vernon Nazarene College men’s basketball head coach Scott Flemming.
The Cougars closed out another outstanding season - the third straight 20-plus win season for the program - with a 97-87 loss to Huron (SD) University in the first round of the 1999 NAIA Division II National Tournament as MVNC finished with a 26-7 overall record.
The Cougars were led this year by four seniors (Ehren Hull, Brad Hostasa, Todd Sands, and Rich Flowers) who helped MVNC to its best four-year run ever as the foursome combined for almost 5,500 career points. During that span, the team posted an 86-43 overall mark that includes a 77-22 record (.778 winning percentage) the past three seasons. The Cougars also earned two straight trips to the NAIA Division II National Tournament with one conference regular-season championship and one conference tournament title.
"Although I am always optimistic about the future, the closure of the 1998-1999 season signifies the end of a great era for Cougar basketball," said Flemming, who has posted a 166-123 record (.574) in nine years at MVNC. "This senior group, along with help from several underclassmen, have solidified the MVNC basketball program as a nationally recognized program in the NAIA over the past three years."
The Cougars roared out of the gate to start the season as MVNC ran off a school-record 14 straight wins to open the year. During that stretch, the team won the Cougar Homecoming Classic, the National Christian College Athletic Association East Region Roundball Classic, the Food for the Hungry Holiday Invitational Tournament, and the Concordia (CA) University Invitational Tournament.
With the fast start, the Cougars, who began the year ranked #2 in the NAIA Division II preseason poll, vaulted into the top spot in the national rankings when the first regular-season poll was released on December 1. One month later, MVNC collected all 23 first-place votes when the second regular-season poll was released - marking the first time in school history that this feat had been accomplished by any sports team.
The Cougars finally had their winning streak snapped by Walsh University, but the team rebounded to win its next four games including a 100-83 non-conference victory at Wilberforce University on February 6 for Flemmings’ 200th career coaching win. After two weeks at the second spot in the NAIA Division II poll, the team returned to the number one spot on January 26.
MVNC dropped a hard-fought 83-81 overtime decision at Cedarville College before rattling off six more victories in their next seven contests with the only other loss coming to Wilberforce. Then, the Cougars struggled the last week of the season as the team lost at Malone College, at the University of Rio Grande, and to Geneva (PA) College as the team finished 24-6 headed into the postseason.
However, the veteran MVNC squad righted itself behind its senior leaders as the Cougars knocked off third-seeded Tiffin University 95-79 in the American Mideast Conference Tournament semifinals and then disposed of top-seeded Malone 107-89 in the championship game on the Pioneers’ home court to earn MVNC a return trip to Nampa, Idaho, and the NAIA Division II National Tournament.
Despite an early exit from the national tournament, Flemming and the Cougars accomplished a lot during the 1998-1999 campaign. "There were many high points during the season including running off 14 straight wins to start the year," Flemming said. "Winning all of our regular-season tournaments and capturing the AMC Tournament to qualify for nationals was also big. This team and this season will always be special to me."
Individually, Hull, a guard, led the team in scoring (19.7 points per game) as he finished his career second on the MVNC all-time scoring list with 2,084 points. He also became the Cougars’ career leader in three-pointers made (384) while ranking seventh in career steals (178) and ninth in career assists (298). Hull was selected to the AMC Division II Team and as an NAIA Division II Honorable Mention All-American.
Sands, a center, led all NAIA Division II players in field goal percentage for the second straight season as he connected on an incredible 69.8 percent of his shots (229-of-328). He averaged 16.0 points and 7.6 rebounds per game with 39 blocked shots. He finishes his career ranked second on MVNC’s career blocks list (120), fourth in rebounds (747), and tenth in scoring (1,563 points). Sands was the AMC Division II Player of the Year, the NCCAA East Region Player of the Year, and the Cougars’ second NAIA Division II First Team All-American, joining Jason Hall who earned that honor following the 1994-1995 season.
Hostasa, a forward, was second on the team in scoring (17.0 points per game) and averaged 5.4 rebounds per contest. He led the team with 51 steals and shot 57.9 percent from the field (180-of-311). He closes out his stellar career ranked fourth on MVNC’s career free throws made list (281), sixth in steals (185), seventh in points (1,648), and eighth in rebounds (588). Hostasa joined Hull and Sands on the All-AMC Division II Team.
Adam Stevens, a junior forward, contributed 14.9 points per game and led the squad in rebounding (8.8 boards per game) for the second straight year. He made school history when he recorded the program’s first triple-double in a victory over Olivet Nazarene (IL) University, and he also became the fourth player on the team to reach the 1,000-point mark.
Junior point guard Kyle Gerhart led the team with 197 assists as he moved into fourth place on the Cougars’ career list with 443 assists. Gerhart averaged 4.7 points and 2.4 rebounds per game, and he also shared the team lead in steals (51) with Hostasa.
Several players off the bench also produced their share of highlights. Freshman post Kenny Chaffin finished his rookie season with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field against Huron at the NAIA Division II National Tournament. Sophomore guard Coy Lindsey made the "Compaq Plays of the Week" by going 7-for-7 from beyond the three-point arc in a win at Urbana University. Freshman post Jon Ware blocked five shots in a victory over Ohio Valley (WV) College. Sophomore guard Matt Keller played in all 33 games and led the team by shooting 86.7 percent from the charity stripe.
Hull, Hostasa, Sands, and Flowers will never be forgotten for their individual accomplishments and their team-above-self attitude that catapulted the Cougars to the top of the NAIA. However, with a solid group of returning players and a good recruiting class, Flemming and MVNC will look to reload for the 1999-2000 season.