University of the Sciences women’s basketball coach Jackie Hartzell answered her phone Sunday evening on the bus.

“What a crazy ride it’s been,” Hartzell said, first thing.

She wasn’t talking about the bus trip.

“Where are we, Joe, on the Turnpike?” she called out. Confirmed, New Jersey Turnpike. “We just passed 7A,” Hartzell said.

As bus rides go, put this one down in the elation category. The return trip to Philadelphia was from Caldwell, N.J., site of the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference women’s basketball championship final.

Final score: Sciences 53, Jefferson 44.

“I was able to keep it together before the game,” Hartzell said from the bus. “But after …”

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“There was a lot of crying,” Hartzell said.

“It was kind of surreal,” guard Jess Huber said of the celebration.

Understand, this was the last CACC game in the history of the program. It was announced last year that Sciences and St. Joseph’s were merging. For Sciences athletics, there will be no merger. This season is it, all of it moving into the history books.

“I think we all understand that it’s something bigger than ourselves,” said Huber, now a graduate student, and the team’s leading scorer. “This was huge for the freshmen, the sophomores, who aren’t going to continue to experience this.”

That’s the thing about this team … 15 players on the squad, including four freshmen, a sophomore, five juniors. They could have left. This is a top area NCAA Division II program. Most could have found a home.

“End of a chapter for everyone,” said Shannon May when the phone was passed to her on the bus. “Playing that way.”

Actually, May thought she was done with a year of eligibility left, since she was going to continue getting a graduate degree at Sciences, in occupational therapy, but her clinical rotation was 40 hours a week in Toms River, N.J. That’s an hour and 20 minutes in the most cooperative of traffic.

“She was playing in the summer league for our alumni team, against our team,” Hartzell said.

The plan was for May to be a graduate assistant.

“We said, how about you play?” Hartzell said.

That meant some sacrifice for everyone, not just in playing time. A lot of the practices were held later, in the evening, so May could get back to them from Toms River. She missed a few, she said, that were held earlier in the day.

“She’s been our glue all year,” Hartzell said.

The players will tell you that their coaches are a big part of that glue. They don’t know their own future. Getting past the fury of finding out they were done, they hunkered down, all did their best to forget about where this all was heading.

“Last year, best year — was the saying the girls kind of used,” Hartzell said.

Before the game, Jefferson coach Tom Shirley pointed out to Hartzell that it was fitting, those two teams in the final. Jefferson-Sciences women has been as good as any rivalry in local hoops over the last decade.

“He actually got on the microphone before the game at his place — he had me crying on the bench, talking about the rivalry,” Hartzell said.

The ride continues for them both in this week’s NCAA Division II tournament. Sciences won the CACC automatic bid. Chestnut Hill rose to the top of the league this season. There was no doubt that team would get an at-large bid, but when a young Jefferson squad knocked off Chestnut Hill in the CACC semifinals, that secured another at-large spot for Jefferson. All three local schools will head to New Hampshire this week for the regional. Sciences and Chestnut Hill will meet in the second round if they both win their first game on Friday, third-seeded Sciences against Le Moyne and second-seeded Chestnut Hill against Pace. Jefferson, the fourth seed, faces Bentley. Lincoln and Kutztown also will be in the national field.

Sunday’s game sounded like typical Sciences-Jefferson. Huber had scored 20 points in the semifinal, but in the final, nobody had more than her 12 points.

“It wasn’t always pretty, but I thought our defense was really good and that’s really been our identity all year,” Hartzell said.

Another mantra … play hard, have fun. “An assistant coach was saying, ‘No, really, go out and have fun, enjoy this,’” Hartzell said.

She tried not to make it a thing all season about it being the end.

“I never wanted to throw it in their face, like, ‘This is our last year and this is how we’re going to play?’” Hartzell said. “Make it a negative thing. I never did that.”

May noted that it will be sad that they won’t be able to come back and cheer for their school.

“Jackie tried to keep it emotionless,” Huber said of going through the conference tournament.

How did that go?

“Not too well,” Huber said. “We all understood what the stakes were.”

Now? Another bus ride, Sciences leaving Wednesday for New England, starting up the Jersey Turnpike this time, still in the right direction.

“End of a chapter for everyone,” Hartzell said from Exit 7A.

Last chapter, officially a special one.