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Davidson women’s basketball abruptly cancels remainder of season after historic start

The Davidson women’s basketball season, one that started with historic promise, has ended early.

The Davidson College athletic department announced Friday that the remainder of the 2023-24 women’s basketball season has been canceled because of a significant number of player injuries.

The cancellation prematurely punctuates what was shaping up to be one of the best seasons in recent program history. The team started the year a program-best 12-1 — including a win over Duke and a close loss to then-nationally ranked North Carolina — and concludes the season 18-8 overall, per the school’s website.

The conference tournament is set to begin next week, March 6-10.

“The physical, mental and emotional toll of this unfortunate and injury-riddled season has brought us to this point,” Chris Clunie, Davidson’s athletic director, said in a statement. “We are incredibly saddened that we cannot finish out the season strong but feel this is the best decision for our scholar-athletes.”

The decision, jarring as it might appear, wasn’t made in haste. The Wildcats had already canceled two games this season — once at Dayton on Feb. 21, and once against Fordham on Feb. 24, before announcing it was also nixing Saturday’s regular-season finale at Saint Louis. The team played George Washington on Wednesday and fell, 45-40, in a game that saw seven players play and six play 25 minutes or more.

The Wildcats were listed as seventh in the conference standings when their season ended Friday.

Clunie told The Charlotte Observer via phone Friday that the team had suffered “six season-ending injuries,” in addition to non-season-ending injuries that forced players to miss games. Clunie wouldn’t disclose details about what those injuries were and who sustained them, in accordance with HIPAA and department policy.

As far as adding walk-ons to finish out the season, Clunie said the team had added two walk-ons in the past couple of weeks, with the main purpose of bolstering the team’s roster for practice.

NCAA Division I women’s basketball teams can offer a maximum of 15 full-ride scholarships.

“We got down to essentially five, six (healthy) scholarship players,” Clunie said. He added, “And six was our no-go. If you have seven, you go. If you have six, you don’t go.”

Davidson isn’t the only program in the country to have injuries interrupt its season. The TCU women’s team held open tryouts and added four walk-ons in January after injuries forced the team to forfeit two games — news that gained national attention.

Gayle Fulks, the program’s head coach for the past seven seasons who predicted in the preseason that this might be her best team yet, said that the injuries the team sustained this season “have weighed heavily on our program.”

“This is decision is not one that we are taking lightly, as no one wanted it to end this way,” she said in a statement. “Our team of young women is the strongest, most caring and most competitive team I have ever been a part of. They have been an absolute joy to coach, every single day. Despite the challenging nature of the way this season has unfolded, our team never wavered and competed to the very end.

“I am confident there is no team in the country that would have handled the hardship we faced with as much grace, strength and adaptability as our young women did. I am so proud of them.”

Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade released a statement following Friday’s news.

“Davidson’s women’s basketball team has faced an unprecedented number of challenges in the second half of this season,” McGlade wrote in a statement. “Given their outstanding start to the season, which led to receiving votes in the Top 25, the news to close the season down is even more heartbreaking.

“The A-10 family, my staff and I are sending positive wishes for an easy and speedy recovery for all involved.”