They never felt old or out of place.
They only saw themselves as well prepared.
Then the Quincy University men's basketball team traveled to Fayette, Iowa, for its first true road game of the season against Upper Iowa and the fact this team -- specifically its six seniors -- had one final shot at postseason success became a stark reality.
"They announced our starting lineup and they said, ‘Redshirt senior, redshirt senior, redshirt senior, redshirt senior, senior,'" said forward Evan McGaughey, one of five redshirt seniors on the squad. "It was like, ‘Man, we're an old team.' We knew it, but it kind of hit home them just how experienced we were.
"It's made a big difference for us. The first couple of years we struggled when we didn't have that maturity that we have now."
That's because the Hawks didn't understand the big picture until now.
There's life beyond basketball, no matter when or where the season ends.
"To get through the rigors of the season, the stress that some games can bring and you get all tense, you need to be able to step away and look back and realize basketball is only a part of our lives," QU senior guard Von Washington III said. "It's important. Basketball is really important.
"But to be able to get away from it, to laugh and spend time with families and friends is really important."
It's made this season so much more enjoyable.
Fifth-seeded Quincy (24-6) will face fourth-seeded Kentucky Wesleyan (28-2) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional at Knights Hall on the Bellarmine University campus.
It is the first NCAA Tournament appearance for all of the Hawks but one. Washington played at Western Michigan in 2013-14 when the Broncos made the NCAA Tournament and lost to Syracuse in the first round. Washington transferred to Quincy in 2015.
It's also the first tourney berth for QU coach Marty Bell since 2010 and fifth in his 14-year tenure.
"It's something they've worked hard for and something you just don't put one season into," said Bell, whose team currently has the third most victories in program history. "This has been multiple seasons for everyone in the program. When you get the opportunity, you want to make sure you're taking advantage of it."
It might have been an opportunity lost had the Hawks not figured out a way to step away from the game.
They went bowling. They played music during pre-practice warmups. They hung out the way college students normally do.
It gave them the proper perspective on hoops, life and everything in between.
"We all have our different releases," Washington said. "But being able to take a step back has really aided us in being able to get to where we're at."
Only a mature group could do that.
"The older you get in life, the better you get at the balance thing," Bell said. "For a college kid to be able to do that is pretty unique, and I think they have been able to do that. They recognize basketball is not life and death. It is a game.
"But it's an important part of their life. Family, other things are always a much greater priority."
Knowing they have that to fall back on when this season ends is comforting.
Right now, the focus is entirely on basketball. It stays that way until this historic season ends.
"It's been a long ride, but it's been everything we wanted it to be," senior guard Grant Meyer said. "There's not going to be a perfect season. Not every game is going to go your way. It's finding a balance of where we are at now and where we want to be."
Still playing is where the Hawks wanted to be all along.