The women’s basketball team captured its second-straight State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) championship by pulling off one of the biggest upsets in conference history.
On Saturday, Feb. 25 New Paltz edged out then-No. 16 SUNY Geneseo 58-57 in the final round of the SUNYAC Tournament. The Knights entered the game with a 26-0 record and defeated the Hawks twice this season by scores of 66-47 and 56-39. This is the first time since the 2012 SUNYAC Tournament that the No. 1 seeded team was not crowned the conference champion.
“It’s really just an amazing feeling,” fourth-year co-captain Kit Small said. “We had so much going against us; being on the road, having that huge obnoxious crowd cheering against us and going up against the number one seed that was undefeated. It really made the win that much more special and satisfying.”
This was a rematch of last season’s SUNYAC Finals, which New Paltz won by a score of 65-52. The SUNYAC title is the Hawks’ third overall, having also won the championship against Geneseo in 2013.
The Hawks jumped out to a quick start in the contest, leading the Knights 17-9 after the first quarter. The eight point lead was the largest either team held throughout the match. New Paltz still led at halftime, but Geneseo had trimmed the deficit to 33-29.
The Knights took the lead for the first time after second-year forward McKenna Brooks tied it with a free throw and a layup in the paint by fourth-year guard Katie Durand gave Geneseo a 39-37 lead with 5:04 remaining in the third quarter. But the Hawks would battle back to take a slim 47-46 lead into the fourth quarter.
Two successful free throws by Knights fourth-year guard Kayleigh Cavanaugh gave Geneseo a 55-54 lead with 4:24 left in the contest. A jumper by Small gave New Paltz a 56-55 advantage with 2:43 remaining on the clock and her layup in the paint with just 0:56 left proved to be the difference, as the Hawks held on for the win.
Small and Hawks second-year guard Lindsay Bettke were named to the SUNYAC All-Tournament Team. After recording a game-high 18 points in the finals, Bettke also took home tournament MVP honors.
“She was huge,” Hawks head coach Jamie Seward said. “Every time we needed to make a play and make a shot, she seemed to step up to the plate and rise to the challenge. She had a tremendous game and she is having a tremendous season.”
Fourth-year co-captain Courtney Irby and first-year guard Sandi Harris each recorded eight points, with Irby registering team highs with seven rebounds and two blocks.
New Paltz beat The College at Brockport in the semifinals by a score of 64-48 on Friday, Feb. 24 in order to reach the final round. Small led the offense with 19 points and fourth-year guard/forward Morgan Roessler recorded a double-double with 14 points and a career-high 12 rebounds. First-year forward Paige Niemeyer chipped in with nine points, six rebounds and a block.
On Wednesday, March 1 it was announced that Small, Bettke and Irby were named to the All-SUNYAC First, Second and Third Team, respectively.
The Hawks improved their record to 18-8 and will next face No. 19 Bowdoin College in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at a neutral site hosted by Ithaca College on Friday, March 3. This is the first ever meeting between the two teams.
The Polar Bears hold a record of 21-4 and earned an at-large bid to the tournament after losing to No. 4 Tufts University 49-44 in the semifinal round of the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Tournament.
New Paltz lost in the first round of their two previous NCAA Tournament appearances, falling to No. 16 Babson College 61-45 in 2013 and losing to Rowan University 93-75 last season.
According to Small, the experience of playing in the tournament last season will be very helpful this time around, even for a team that has seven first-years. But she also explained that when it comes down to it, it’s no different than any other basketball match.
“I think it is definitely helpful that we have some players who have been to the tournament before, but we also have a lot of freshmen who have not been there before,” Small said. “The upperclassmen will definitely share their tournament experiences with the freshmen. We want them to be as prepared as possible, but at the end of the day it’s another game and we just have to go out there and play.”