The women’s basketball team made history this year with its first-ever trip to the Division III Final Four in Terre Haute, Ind. The Yellowjackets advanced to the national semifinals with a victory over Messiah College on March 15, after doing away with Ithaca College and University of Scranton in earlier rounds.
Head coach Jim Scheible was excited about his team’s tournament run. “The trip to the Final Four is the opportunity of a lifetime to see what we can do,” he said.
Assistant coach Beth O’Boyle agreed. “We are so proud of how hard our players worked during practice and the off season,” she said. “Getting to the Final Four is a credit to their sacrifices.”
Hard work was the hallmark of the women’s team throughout the season and the Yellowjackets’ success over spring break was no different. The victories were a team effort, highlighted by a balanced attack on both ends of the court.
In the East/Atlantic Sectional Championship, UR snapped Messiah’s 18-game winning streak by dominating the whole game thanks to an aggressive start that never let up.
“I knew we were ready to play right away,” Scheible said. “The first half was key.”
The Yellowjackets came out strong with early layups by junior Tara Carrozza, sophomores Megan Fish and Kelly Wescott. Wescott who was later named MVP of the All-Sectional team with a team-high 16 points.
Junior Erika Smith was also key to UR’s victory with 15 points, including five during an 11-2 run to cap off the first half and give UR a 43-30 lead going into the locker room. Smith also assisted on back-to-back three-pointers by senior Anne Gotstein that sealed the victory.
O’Boyle was happy with her team’s performance. “The most important part of the Messiah game was that you could feel our team’s intensity,” she said.
In addition to an efficient offense, the Yellowjackets also played tough defense. Wescott held Messiah’s top scorer, Christina Vouriotis, to 10 points. Vouriotis had scored 31 in Messiah’s semifinal win over Marymount University the night before.
“Our success came from our team defense – we take pride in using our strength and controlling the boards,” O’Boyle said.
Defense was also key in UR’s 57-51 semifinal victory over Ithaca. With both teams shooting poorly, the Yellowjackets had to rely on defensive stops and rebounding to stay in the game. The UR women out-rebounded Ithaca 51-34.
The Yellowjackets led through most of the first period, but Ithaca made a run just before halftime to take a two-point lead at the half. Ithaca expanded their lead in the opening minutes of the second half, taking their largest lead at 34-28 with 15:36 left in the game.
UR took control with a 16-5 run that put the game away. Wescott, Fish and sophomore Ashley Latimer scored four each and Smith topped off the scoring burst with a 3-pointer to put the Yellowjackets up 44-39 with 8:08 to go.
Ithaca cut the lead to two, but the Yellowjackets came back with a 7-0 run and sealed the victory with three free throws by Gotstein in the final 28 seconds.
The week before, UR defeated Scranton 59-45 when Gotstein and Wescott combined for 27 points and 21 rebounds.
UR came out early, but Scranton capitalized on UR’s struggling offense to take a 13-8 lead with 3:52 left in the first half. UR battled back with a 13-5 run and took a 21-18 lead at the half.
UR was consistent in the second half, making a series of jump shots building the lead to 32-23 and sunk five free throws to stretch their lead to 11 with 11:38 left.
Wescott led all players with 16 points and 13 boards and Gotstein added 11 points and eight rebounds.
The Yellowjackets took on Trinity University from Texas in their first Final Four appearance March 21. Scheible and O’Boyle said Trinity is athletic with strong post players and quick guards.
Both insisted, however, that UR had a good chance to win by doing what they did all season.
“We’re going to keep doing the same things, and do them even better,” Scheible said.
O’Boyle agreed. “Our focus was the same it had been all year – play intense, defend our hearts out and have fun,” she said.
O’Boyle said that the players were excited to be making team history. “They enjoy responding to a challenge, and playing in the Final Four is definitely going to be that,” she said.
Scheible said that the team’s appearance in the Final Four is the pinnacle of his coaching career and of his players’ season. “We have as good a shot as anyone to bring it home,” he said. “We’re not going to just be happy to be there – we want to win it.”
Unfortunately, the Yellowjackets fell to eventual national champions Trinity in the semifinals 63-54. UR then lost 82-77 to top ranked University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in the third place game.
Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.