The women’s basketball team earned their second State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) title in program history with a 65-52 win over SUNY Geneseo on Saturday, Feb. 27.
With the win, the Hawks locked up SUNYAC’s automatic qualifier into the 2016 NCAA Div. III Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Hawks fourth-year co-captain Goldie Harrison received the tournament’s Most Valuable Player honors after netting 18 points in the championship game.
Harrison attributed team depth as one of their strong points.
“We had our bench come in and actually take the lead by eight points which just shows we have depth and have people who are ready to step up,” she said. “It’s a team thing. We don’t have one best player or a certain person who we look to. We can all do it, and we need every single person on the team to do it.”
Earning spots on the All-Tournament team were Hawks third-year co-captain Kit Small and fellow third-year co-captain Courtney Irby. Rounding out the All-Tournament team were fourth-year guard Bryn Loomis from SUNY Oneonta and fourth-year forward Allison McKenna and third-year forward Katie Vienneau from Geneseo.
Small said the best part about when the final buzzer sounded was she didn’t know who to hug because everyone on the team are her closest friends.
The team’s strong defense in the second quarter pushed the Hawks to grab a 12-4 run to capture a 28-20 advantage at halftime.
Harrison connected on 12-of-18 free throw shots and tallied three steals and two assists to lead the way. The Hawks grabbed their largest lead of the night, 43-26, on a Harrison free throw at the 2:53 mark in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter alone, Harrison converted 11-of-13 shots from the line. Geneseo cut the Hawks’ advantage to 43-32 as the Knights capitalized on back-to-back free throw shots by Vienneau, but Small put away a layup to hand New Paltz a 45-32 edge in the final stretch.
Irby finished the game recording her ninth double-double of the season, collecting 11 points and a team-high 10 rebounds.
“There are no words to describe how I felt when the clock hit zero,” Irby said. “I’m so happy to have done it with such an amazing team.”
Hawks Head Coach Jamie Seward said throughout the season the team has shown vast leadership and they take care of any issues on their own.
“When you have that, it makes your job as a coach really easy to just go out there and focus on the x’s and o’s and the gameplan and what we’re going to do against this team and how we are going to defend a team,” he said. “It’s been a real pleasure coaching them.”
To get to the championship game, the Hawks defeated SUNY Oneonta 77-68 in the semifinal game on Friday, Feb. 26. With the win, the Hawks lead, 18-16, in the 2015-16 Catskill Cup standings. Being the No. 1 seed in the conference earned New Paltz an automatic bye in the quarterfinal game.
The Red Dragons held the lead in the start of the second quarter, but Hawks first-year guard Lindsay Bettke notched back-to-back threes to level the score to 17-all. Both teams remained locked in a draw until the Hawks pushed a 6-0 run for a 36-28 edge at halftime.
New Paltz held a 56-49 advantage heading into the final period, but the Red Dragons managed to close the gap to five as Loomis landed a jump shot to make it a 67-62 score. Loomis would finish the game with a game-high 23 points. As a team, the Hawks held a 44-31 advantage in rebounds, scored 17 points off turnovers and shot 62.5 percent (10-of-16) from the 3-point range.
Four New Paltz players scored double-figures in points for the night. Small paced the team with 19 points, hitting 5-of-9 shots from the floor, 3-of-3 from the 3-point range and converting 6-of-8 from the line. Irby notched a double-double putting up 15 points and 14 rebounds. Fourth-year guard Colleen Ames converted 3-of-4 shots from the 3-point range for 14 points. Bettke tallied 10 points off the bench in the Hawks’ efforts.
Seward said he credits Harrison with sparking the team’s turning-point after their third straight loss to Fredonia during the regular season. The next morning before shootaround prior to the game against Buffalo State, Harrison passionately spoke to the team. This was done by calling some teammates out individually and backed up her words with a career night, he said.
“At that point we said ‘we have to do this thing. What excuse can we make?’” Seward said. “From that point on we took off. The regular season finale loss refocused us and we never had any doubts at that point about what kind of team we have. The injuries and adversity really strengthened us but her leadership kept us moving forward. The one thing as a coach it’s such a great feeling to know, regardless of what happens to us, we’re going to keep marching forward because I know that she is going to make sure that happens. She has created other leaders. What leaders do is they produce more leaders.”
It was announced by the conference office on Tuesday, March 1 that Small and Irby have been named to the 2015-16 All-SUNYAC Teams. Small was named to the All-SUNYAC First Team, while Irby earned Second-Team All-SUNYAC accolades. The selection marks the first of Irby’s career and Small’s second career All-SUNYAC honor, having been named to the All-SUNYAC Second Team last season.
The Hawks will next travel to Glassboro, New Jersey to take on Rowan University in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Div. III Tournament this Friday, March 4, at 7 p.m. Rowan (22-5) is 11-11 all-time at the NCAA Tournament, qualifying for the tenth time in program history and for the first time since 2000.
“A lot of people were saying after this win, ‘we want more, we’re not satisfied,’” Small said. “This is just a stepping stone to everything else.”