Not many teams have the chance to end the season by winning a championship.
It may not have been the one they had in mind, but the women’s basketball team did indeed finish the season as champions.
After finishing third in the University Athletic Association, UR did not receive a bid to the NCAA tournament.
Instead, the Yellowjackets took advantage of the opportunity to defend their East Coast Athletic Conference Upstate New York Championship.
The ECAC tournament pairs four of the most talented teams in the region to compete in semi-final and championship games.
UR entered this year’s tournament seeded second in a field of four, behind the Red Hawks of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Rounding out the foursome were the Herons of William Smith College and the St. John Fisher College Cardinals, who filled the third and fourth seeds respectively.
Awarded the privilege of hosting the tournament, the Yellowjackets asserted their dominance in the region with two convincing wins over traditional upstate powers William Smith and St. John Fisher en route to defending their ECAC title.
The competition began Saturday, March 2nd at the Louis Alexander Palestra with St. John Fisher upsetting RPI 60-44 in the first semi-final game. UR took care of business in their match-up with William Smith.
LaBuda leads the way
Led by 18 points from senior guard and captain Jen LaBuda, and 12 from freshman forward Megan Fish, UR mimicked their 61-51 win over the Herons earlier in the season with a 65-48 win.
LaBuda continued her offensive domination in the finals, scoring 20 points to lead the Yellowjackets to a 65-51 win over the Cardinals. Smith added 11 points, five assists, and two steals as UR captured the ECAC title for the second year in a row. With a total of 38 points in two games, LaBuda moved into seventh place in career scoring in UR history with 976 points, and was named MVP of the tournament.
“The team was very excited to see Jen LaBuda go out on a high note,” said head coach Jim Scheible. “For all she has meant to our program, it was great to see her have a great final weekend of her career.”
Backing LaBuda’s remarkable performance was a solid team effort over the weekend. In both games, all 14 able-bodied members of the team earned playing time, with 11 scoring points in each game.
UR wins with depth
Depth has clearly been an asset to the team all season.
“It’s nice to have a lot of young, quality, depth,” said Scheible, whose overall record climbed to 205-140 this season. “Having had the chance to use so many players this year will be valuable next year because we will return players with both talent and experience.”
In particular, Scheible praised Smith for “a great year at point guard,” as “she really emerged as a team leader as the year went on.” In addition, he lauded Fish and freshman forward Kelly Wescott for “exceptional freshman years.”
Fish finished the year fifth in scoring with 5.7 points per game backed by 3.0 rebounds per game and a total of 10 blocks. Wescott finished third in scoring with 9.3 points per game in addition to leading the team with 5.2 rebounds per game.
Three Yellowjackets were recognized by the University Athletic Association All-Conference honors.LaBuda garnered first team honors, while Smith and sophomore forward Shannon Higgins earned honorable mention accolades.
LaBuda finished the season as UR’s leading scorer for the second year in a row, averaging 10.5 points per game.
One of only two players to start every game, her 1.9 assists per game were second on the team, and she finished with a team-high 12 blocks on the season.
Smith started every game at point guard. She finished second in scoring with 9.7 points per game, first in assists with 2.9 a game, and third in rebounds with 4.5 per game. Her 66 steals led the team and placed her second overall in the UAA.
Higgins finished fourth on the team in scoring with 6.0 points per game and fifth with 4.4 rebounds a game.
UR finished the season 18-9 overall ? the most wins in a season since 1993-94 when the Yellowjackets went 19-8.
Thirteen of those wins came at home, with Rochester dominating competition at the Palestra throughout the season. The Yellowjackets finished tied for third in the UAA with an in-conference record of 7-7, but only won one UAA game on the road.
Scheible was pleased with his team’s overall performance.
“Overall, moving up in the UAA to finish tied for third was big for us,” he said. “We obviously wanted to make NCAAs, but our next best opportunity was getting into ECACs.”
“We felt it was important to establish our strength in the region, and we did that with ECACs.”
LaBuda echoed her coach’s opinion.
“I’m so proud of our team,” she said. “Everyone on the team contributed to our success. Whether it’s pushing people harder in practice, coming off the bench, or getting the team going, everyone played a role in our success.”
“We had some times where we struggled this season, but we really pulled together in the end.”
With LaBuda the only member of the team that will be lost to graduation, UR will return a remarkably large group of talented players.
“We have a good, strong, young group coming back and we’re very excited about our prospects,” Scheible said. “The UAA will be intense next year. Hopefully winning the ECAC’s this year will be a springboard into NCAA’s next year.”
“Our goal will definitely be qualifying and advancing in the NCAA tournament.”
LaBuda has faith in her teammates potential for the future.
“Expectations are high for next year,” she said. “There are a lot of talented players on the team. If they work hard in the off-season, there is no limit to what they can achieve.”
Seferiadis can be reached at email@example.com.