After a pair of upsets in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, the women’s basketball team has advanced to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen for the first time in program history.
First the Hawks defeated then-No. 19 Bowdoin College on Friday, March 3 by a score of 62-61 at a neutral site hosted by Ithaca College. This marked the first time in program history that New Paltz beat nationally ranked teams in back-to-back games, as preceding this match the Hawks upset then-No. 16 SUNY Geneseo 58-57 in the final round of the State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) Tournament. This was also the program’s first ever NCAA Tournament victory.
New Paltz held a 27-22 lead at halftime and had a 13-point advantage early in the fourth quarter, as the Hawks owned a 50-37 lead with 7:34 remaining in the game. The Polar Bears battled back to make it a 60-58 game in favor of New Paltz with just 0:26 left on the clock. But two consecutive free throws by Hawks second-year guard Lindsay Bettke built a large enough lead for New Paltz to withstand a late 3-pointer from Polar Bears third-year guard Kate Kerrigan, as the Hawks held on for the win.
Fourth-year co-captain Kit Small led the offense with 14 points and recorded team highs with eight rebounds, two assists and three steals. First-year forward Paige Niemeyer also notched eight boards and chipped in with seven points, two steals and an assist. Fourth-year co-captain Courtney Irby and first-year guard Marion Dietz ranked second on the team with 11 points each.
The following day New Paltz beat host Ithaca 83-80. The Hawks lost to the Bombers on the road earlier this season by a score of 78-50 back on Jan. 10.
New Paltz built up a 45-35 lead at halftime thanks to 18 points from fourth-year guard/forward Morgan Roessler, whose career-high was 17 points prior to this game. Roessler was “shocked and surprised” by her strong performance.
“I normally look to pass rather than score because I don’t finish that well when I do shoot,” Roessler said. “So because of that, the way I was scoring during the game was very surprising to me.”
The lead was extended to 69-56 by the end of the third quarter, but the Bombers would come back to tie the game at 80-all in the fourth quarter with just 1:35 remaining in the game. Roessler hit a 3-pointer with 1:10 left on the clock and Bombers third-year guard Jordan Beers missed a 3-pointer with only 0:03 left in the match as the Hawks finished off their third-straight upset victory.
“I never had a doubt in my mind that we weren’t going to win,” Roessler said. “I had a really good feeling right from the beginning of the day when I woke up that morning. We are such a connected team that brings so much energy to the court and it makes me feel so confident anytime I step on the floor.”
Roessler finished the game with a career-high 25 points and added a team-high seven rebounds and two steals. Bettke led the offense and also recorded a new career high with 26 points. Small contributed 18 points and led the team with four assists and two blocks.
The Hawks’ third round opponent will be UMass-Dartmouth at a neutral site contest hosted by No. 1 Amherst College on Friday, March 10. New Paltz holds a record of 20-8 while the Corsairs are 24-5. Host Amherst is an undefeated 29-0 and the team is currently allowing 40.3 points per game, the lowest in all of Div. III.
Babson College will be taking on Amherst following the New Paltz-UMass-Dartmouth match, and the winner from each of those matches will face off on Saturday, March 11. The Beavers currently hold a record of 24-5. The last time the Hawks faced Babson was in New Paltz’s first ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament back in 2013, and the Beavers won that game by a score of 61-45. The Hawks haven’t faced Amherst since November of 2010, when the Lord Jeffs were victorious by a score of 64-39. This will be the first ever matchup between New Paltz and UMass-Dartmouth.
Small is very excited to see her team advance to the third round, but understands that they still need to improve their play in order to continue their season.
“This team is really something special, so to be able to continue playing with them is a great reward,” Small said. “Going further than we did last year and making school history is just an unbelievable and amazing feeling. It’s crazy to think you are one of 16 teams left in the country.
“UMass-Dartmouth has some good post players so we have been working on defending the post, but we really just need to work on improving every day as a whole. The more the season goes on, the tougher it gets to improve because the things you are trying to improve get more and more specific, so it’s important that we have a great focus every day in practice and we come ready to play and improve.”