The women’s basketball team have clinched the No. 1 seed in the State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) and now prepare for the playoffs.
With the current standing of a SUNYAC record of 14-4, the Hawks have earned a bye in the quarterfinal game of the 2016 SUNYAC Tournament and have automatically advanced to the semifinal game.
Hawks Head Coach Jamie Seward said earning the top seed in the conference and hosting the tournament were goals the team had this season.
“That was nice, but at the end of the day it is not the end destination that we’re looking for,” he said. “It’s a nice accomplishment, but it’s in the past and we have to move on to the next thing.”
In recent weeks, the Hawks went on a 10-game winning streak. Defeating SUNY Potsdam 83-52 and SUNY Plattsburgh 81-73 on Feb. 5 and 6, respectively, concluded the Hawks’ five-game road trip.
Against the Cardinals, Hawks third-year co-captain Kit Small converted 11-of-11 from the line and 8-of-13 from the field to collect a career-high 27 points.
The Hawks returned home for three games beginning with an 83-32 win over SUNY Oswego on Tuesday, Feb. 9 — the largest point deficit of the season. New Paltz recorded 41 bench points and edged Oswego, 43-35, in rebounds.
Three days later, New Paltz picked up another win with a 55-41 victory over SUNY Geneseo.
The following day had another win, this time against The College at Brockport with a score of 72-60 on Saturday, Feb. 13.
Although the Golden Eagles entered the final quarter with a 54-52 edge, the Hawks scored 15 unanswered points to grab the largest lead of the game (67-54). Brockport managed to cut the score to 69-60 with 1:18 remaining but the Hawks clinched the final victory as New Paltz capitalized on three Brockport fouls, and converted 3-of-6 shots from the line.
The next day, the Hawks began their final road trip of the season, earning a 73-67 win against Buffalo State. With the win, New Paltz clinched the No. 1 seed in the SUNYAC Tournament and earned the regular season conference title, the second in program history. Hawks second-year guard and forward Laura Stuart made 9-of-13 shots from the field and 4-of-5 shots from the 3-point range to collect a career-high 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to conclude the game with a double-double.
On the last game of the season, the Hawks fell to SUNY Fredonia, 70-65.
Fredonia regained control of the lead in the final quarter, but New Paltz narrowed the score to 65-64 on a jump shot by Stuart. However Fredonia escaped the Hawks to push ahead, 70-64 with 28 seconds left to play. Although Small made a free throw, New Paltz could not connect on another basket as Fredonia took home the win.
Next up for the Hawks will be a semifinal elimination game against SUNY Oneonta on Friday, Feb. 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Hawk Center. The Hawks split the season series against Oneonta. In their first matchup on Friday, Jan. 15, the Red Dragons had the upper hand with a 63-53 win on the Hawks’ home court. A little over two weeks later, the Hawks defeated Oneonta on their court 70-59.
Last season, the Hawks advanced to the semifinal game and were eliminated by SUNY Cortland with a 57-48 loss.
This year, the Hawks have more experience playing through elimination game situations in postseason play with multiple players having playoff experience through the years in the program.
To prepare for the game against the Red Dragons, Hawks third-year co-captain Courtney Irby said the team is making sure they are keeping the competition level high and intense during practice.
“There is no such thing as having a soft practice because that’s only going to hinder us,” she said. “We also have a high level of focus in practice and in the meeting room because once that ball goes up there is no stopping us because we’re going after it all.”
Seward said playing on home court benefited the team the last time they hosted the tournament and hopes to have a great crowd supporting the team at the Hawk Center at the semifinals.
“That home crowd can be a little bit of an influence and give you a little bit of a boost,” he said. “But, you need to play the game, make plays and shots. That is what ultimately decides the game.”