Defending Champ Bowdoin Must Go Through Amherst for Shot at Eighth Title
HADLEY, Mass. - Bowdoin College, the seven-time NESCAC Women’s Basketball Champions, will defend its crown this weekend at LeFrak Gymnasium in Amherst, Mass. when the Polar Bears battle for an unprecedented eighth title in the final rounds of the 2008 NESCAC Women’s Basketball Championship. Semifinal action begins on Saturday, March 1 at 12:00 p.m. with top seed and host Amherst facing fourth seed Bowdoin and will be immediately followed by second seed Tufts squaring off with third seed Wesleyan. The 2008 NESCAC Women’s Basketball Championship concludes on Sunday, March 2 at 12:00 p.m. Tickets for Saturday’s semifinals and Sunday’s championship are $5 for adults and $2 for children and students. Fans unable to attend this weekend’s action will be able to follow all three games live via the Internet on D3Cast.com.
In the midst of the best season in team history, top-seeded Amherst (23-2, 7-2 NESCAC) finished the regular season tied atop the NESCAC standings with Tufts, however the Jeffs earned the number-one seed by holding the head-to-head tie-breaker thanks to a thrilling 64-62 win over the Jumbos. Amherst stormed out of the gate to start the 2007-08 season, winning a program-record 17-straight victories before being derailed at rival Williams on Jan. 26 by a 64-59 score. The Jeffs only other loss this year also came on the road, as they suffered a 72-61 setback to their semifinal opponent, Bowdoin, on Feb. 2 in the lone regular season meeting between the two teams. First year head coach G.P. Gromacki’s band of hoopsters reached this weekend’s round of four for only the third time in tournament history (2001, 2005), rolling past Colby 83-53 in the quarterfinals. Amherst ranks at or near the top of most statistical categories in the league this season. The Jeffs’ offense leads the NESCAC with an average 75.0 points per game - nearly a full 15 points more than last year - while also shooting a conference-best 46.2 percent from the floor. Defensively, Amherst has allowed on average 53.4 points (2nd NESCAC) and held opponents to 36.3 percent shooting (3rd). Scoring has been a committee effort this season, as nine different players have led Amherst over 25 games. Senior forward Stefanie Reiff (Hinsdale, Ill.) paces the Jeffs in scoring for the second-straight year, averaging 12.5 points while shooting a career-best 51.3 percent from the floor. Senior guard Shaina Pollack (Great Neck, N.Y.) and sophomore forward Samantha Swensen (Rockaway Park, N.Y.) are tied for second on the Jeffs’ roster behind Reiff, both averaging 10.5 points per game. Pollack has also contributed 5.0 assists, third among all conference players this season, while Swensen, the 2007 NESCAC Rookie of the Year, ranks third in the NESCAC in shooting percentage at 52.7.
Standing in the way of Amherst’s bid to make history is history itself in the form of fourth-seeded Bowdoin (18-7, 6-3 NESCAC). The Polar Bears own a monopoly when it comes to the NESCAC Women’s Basketball Championship, winning every title since the tournament’s inception in 2001 and boasting a 21-0 playoff record, including two tournament victories over the Jeffs. The 2007-08 campaign has been uncharacteristically difficult for Bowdoin though, as the Polar Bears have battled both opponents and injuries on their way to this year’s semifinals. During the quarterfinals on Feb. 23, Bowdoin gained retribution for a loss at rival Bates in the regular season finale from a week before by overcoming the Bobcats 55-51. Statistically this season, Bowdoin ranks sixth in the NESCAC in scoring offense at 64.4 points per game and is third in scoring defense by allowing only 57.4 points. Perimeter shooting has once again been a key component for the Polar Bears, as they are averaging a league-high 6.4 three-point baskets per game while hitting 36.0 percent from beyond the arc (3rd NESCAC). Junior forward Jill Anelauskas (Medfield, Mass.) is first on her team in both scoring and rebounding, averaging 12.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. Classmate Alexa Kaubris (Rumford, Maine) follows Anelauskas closely on the Bowdoin stat sheet with 12.0 points and is third in rebounds with 5.2 boards per game. Rookie guard Katie Bergeron (Bradley, Maine) has come on strong as of late for the Polar Bears, leading her team in scoring over the past three games. Bergeron netted a career-high 24 points during Saturday’s quarterfinal win over Bates, tying a school record with six three-pointers in the victory. She has a team-leading 44 three-point baskets so far this year.
While second-seeded Tufts (22-2, 7-2 NESCAC) came up short in the fight for the number-one seed in the NESCAC Women’s Basketball Championship for the second year in a row, the Jumbos are still enjoying another successful season on the hardwood. After reaching the final game of last winter’s tournament for the first time in program history, Tufts opened the year with 12 consecutive victories and has recorded a school-record 22 wins this season, shattering the previous mark of 19 set during the 1986-87 season. The Jumbos broke the old record with an 83-56 decision over Bowdoin on Feb. 15, the first win for the program over the Polar Bears since 1994. In addition to the aforementioned loss to Amherst on Jan. 18, Tufts has lost only one other game this season, a 63-46 setback at Williams on Feb. 9. Tufts moved into this year’s semifinals after getting past Middlebury 71-60 in the quarterfinals last weekend, extending its winning streak to three games in the process. The Jumbos are averaging 68.0 points per game, second only to Amherst among conference teams, and the defense ranks first in the NESCAC, as it has limited opponents to 52.2 points and a 32.8 shooting percentage. Tufts also leads the league in rebounding, out-rebounding foes by a margin of 13.7. A big part of the Jumbos’ success this season has been due the efforts of senior forward Khalilah Ummah (Litchfield, Maine). Ummah ranks first among conference players in rebounding and blocked shots, grabbing 10.2 boards and swatting 2.3 shots per game, while pacing her teammates on the offensive end of the floor with 12.5 points per game (11th NESCAC). Following Ummah in scoring is first year guard Colleen Hart (Needham, Mass.), who is having a stellar first season with an average 11.6 points and 3.7 assists per game, and junior center Katie Tausanovitch (Lyme, N.H.). Tausanovich is third on her team in scoring with 10.2 points and second in rebounds with 8.3 boards while holding second among NESCAC players in shooting percentage at 53.5 percent.
Returning to the semifinals for the second time in three years, third-seeded Wesleyan (17-8, 6-3 NESCAC) is looking to reach the conference championship contest on Sunday for the first time in program history. Wesleyan ended the regular season tied with Bowdoin in the NESCAC standings, however the Cardinals grabbed the third seed thanks to a 62-49 victory over the Polar Bears on Jan. 26 in Brunswick, Maine. Wesleyan enters Saturday’s showdown with Tufts having won its last two games, a 65-47 regular season victory over Williams on Feb. 16 followed by a 68-49 rematch win over the Ephs in the quarterfinals last weekend. The regular season meeting between these two teams went to Tufts almost a month ago, a 66-52 Jumbo victory on Feb. 2 in Middletown, Conn. Saturday’s semifinal tilt will be the first time that Tufts and Wesleyan have faced each other in playoff history. The Cardinals rank fifth in the conference this season both offensively and defensively, scoring on average 65.3 points per game while allowing 58.1 points. Wesleyan features the top two scorers in the NESCAC on its roster, junior guard Ali Fourney (East Northport, N.Y.) and senior forward Lucy Sprung (Wilmington, Vt.). Fourney, the 2006 NESCAC Rookie of the Year, leads the conference in points with a 16.5 average, as she became the second-fastest player in program history to reach 1,000 career points earlier this year. Sprung is currently enjoying her best season ever with the Cardinals, ranking second only to Fourney in the league in scoring with 15.6 points per game - more than double her average from last winter. Sprung also leads her squad in rebounds with 9.2 per game (3rd NESCAC) and in shooting with a 48.7 percent showing from the floor.
2008 NESCAC WOMEN’S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
Quarterfinals - Saturday, February 23 at Higher Seeds
at No. 1 Amherst 83, No. 8 Colby 53
at No. 2 Tufts 71, No. 7 Middlebury 60
at No. 3 Wesleyan 68, No. 6 Williams 49
at No. 4 Bowdoin 55, No. 5 Bates 51
Semifinals - Saturday, March 1 at Amherst
No. 4 Bowdoin at No. 1 Amherst - 12:00 p.m.
No. 3 Wesleyan vs. No. 2 Tufts - 2:00 p.m.
Championship - Sunday, March 2 at Amherst
Semifinal winners - 12:00 p.m.