January 18 marked the day that the women’s basketball team won its first J.P. Morgan Chase Tournament championship with a 61-51 victory over Roberts-Wesleyan College. The win improved the Yellowjackets record to 2-0 for the season and extended their winning streak to 14 games.
The annual tournament is a showcase of eight Rochester-area teams, including Roberts Wesleyan College, Nazareth, St. John Fisher, RIT, Brockport, Geneseo, Keuka and UR. Head Coach Jim Scheible pointed to the tournament’s uniqueness as a result of the area’s perceived importance and the scheduling revolution around the games of the tournament.
This year was especially monumental for the Yellowjackets, as that same squad fell to Roberts Wesleyan last season at the Palestra and was looking to “avenge that loss,” according to Scheible.
Sophomore Megan Fish recognized that Rochester sought revenge. She noted her dissatisfaction with last year’s result, which has spurned a fresh new rivalry between the schools. “We were very excited to play the game, and wanted to beat them on their home court. That carried us into the game,” Fish said.
The motivation to topple the defending champions and establish themselves as worthy champions infiltrated the mental aspects of the game to initiate stronger play on UR’s side. “They just wanted that trophy,” Scheible said.
The rivalry between the schools is a relatively even one, with both teams constantly exchanging the leads. With the clock clickling down at the end of the first period, sophomores Fish, Kelly Wescott and Hallie Frederick and junior Erika Smith led the offensive effort. At the half the score was tied at 26, with neither team gaining an edge.
The second half brought much of the same, featuring even play and constant lead changes. UR, however, eventually held onto the lead for good, clinching the championship thanks to a scoring frenzy in the final minutes of the game.
With just over three minutes remaining, the team’s leaders began to take over. Wescott nailed the front end of a one-and-one to put UR up 48-45. Fish came away with a huge offensive board and laid in the ball to put the Yellowjackets up by five. Roberts Wesleyan cut the lead to four with a free throw, before senior Anne Gotstein connected with Fish for another layup. The lead was pushed to eight when Wescott made a layup with 1:23 remaining. The Yellowjackets did not look back from that point on. Smith and Wescott combined to sink seven free throws in the closing minute giving UR a 61-51 victory.
Rochester dominated the tournament as a team and individually, with three players being named to the All-Tournament team. Wescott brought home the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award after totalling 27 points, 24 rebounds, six steals and five assists in three games. Also named to the All-Tournament team were Erika Smith and Anne Gotstein. Smith ended the tournament with 22 points and 13 boards while Gotstein amassed 24 points, 10 rebounds, six steals and four assists.
The Yellowjackets implemented several strategic maneuvers against Roberts Wesleyan to help them to the win, capitalizing on their opponents’ weaknesses as well as their own strengths. Scheible’s offense was patient with the ball, slowing the overall pace of the game and disrupting Roberts-Wesleyan’s tranisition activity. The Yellowjackets also played strong defense, limiting the Raiders’ open looks at the hoop.
“We felt if we played good defense and we relied on our teammates and stayed intense, we could carry the game,” Fish said.
Scheible also mentioned the contributions of the second unit players off the bench as key to Rochester’s victory. Juniors Carrozza, Shannon Higgins Bekah Jones, sophomore Ashley Latimer and freshman Jenna Filia all contributed to UR’s cause. “We wore them down with our depth,” Scheible said.
He also pointed to the team’s experience as a major factor in the Yellowjackets’ tournament success. “We have a lot of players with experience in the UAA, which makes you mentally tougher,” he said. “They naturally are able to win more games because they have developed the ability to do so.”
A seasoned core of players will aid UR in the future, when the Yellowjackets face a tough schedule, especially on the road. The team is looking forward to its Friday night matchup against an undefeated, 14-0, Washington University in St. Louis. This matchup should show where UR stands in relation to one of the nation’s finest.