The women’s basketball team had an impressive weekend, skating past the semi-finals on Friday with a 70-67 win against the College at Brockport and securing their fourth State Univerisity of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) championship win in overtime against reigning champion SUNY Geneseo on Saturday.
The Hawks started off the first quarter Friday night with a 10-2 run, giving Brockport no room for error. The two teams shot aggressively from the paint throughout the first half, with the Golden Eagles trailing by no more than 10 points. With Brockport staying close behind, the Golden Eagles were able to come behind three, ending the half with New Paltz up 37-34.
The Hawks were able to keep their slight lead throughout the third quarter, as a layup by fourth-year guard Rachel Simon opened the fourth with a 11-0 run, with two 3-pointers by fourth-year guard Lindsay Bettke, capping the run three minutes in to give New Paltz a 58-45 lead. Brockport answered back however, tying the game at 67-67 with a minute left.
Simon earned a spot on the foul line three times in the final minute, securing the win by giving the Hawks a three-point advantage at the buzzer.
“Although every second out there was heightened and the emotions of the game were so strong, I will never forget when I was standing at the [foul] line,” Simon said. “I couldn’t stop smiling and I was so happy that it was me standing there and I took a breath and just embraced that moment because it’s not everyday you’re put in a position like that. I relaxed and did what I had to do for my team in order for us to win.”
The Hawks then faced off against defending SUNYAC champion SUNY Geneseo on Saturday, Feb. 23, hoping to reclaim the title after falling to the Knights in the semi-finals during the 2017-2018 season.
In a tight first half with Geneseo, The Hawks extended their lead to double-digits in the third quarter for the first time when third-year guard Marion Dietz sunk a 3-pointer at 9:33. That lead dwindled, however, when the Knights went on a 10-0 run that gave Geneseo a slight lead at 36-33 going into the final quarter.
An 11-0 run by the Knights early in the fourth quarter gave them a 13-point lead and put New Paltz against the ropes. The Hawks luck shifted with just four minutes left, as third-year forward Madison Van Pelt attacked the basket with back-to-back shots to decrease the Knights lead to nine. Scoring furiously, Simon came in clutch to cut the score 51-50 with a 3-pointer with 30 seconds remaining.
To slow the clock, the Hawks started to foul to gain time with Geneseo only hitting one foul shot to give them a two-point advantage. Simon found herself on the line with eight seconds to go, and tied the score at 52, forcing overtime in the SUNYAC championships.
Bettke and Simon were catalysts in overtime, scoring 10 of the 11 points. On the line again, Simon easily sunk the final free throws and watched her team become champions for the first time in her career with a final score of 63-57.
“Playoffs are a different kind of environment,” Bettke said. “Everything is on the line and players tend to have the best games of their lives if they step up to challenge. We struggled because Brockport came out more aggressive than us in the beginning and they didn’t back down.”
Simon was named to the SUNYAC all-tournament team, finishing with a game-high of 22 points, followed by three-time SUNYAC champion Bettke who claimed 17 points and the title of tournament MVP.
“The biggest factor [in having a successful season] was a collective toughness that this team has,” said head coach for the Hawks James Seward. “They are a very together group, and they really believe in one another. They are very hard on one another and hold each other to a high standard, but they also support one another no matter what.”
The Lady Hawks will play in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday, March 1 against Rutgers University-Newark. Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m.