Three games into the women’s basketball season, we’ve seen both promising and disappointing play from Wesleyan. Though it’s quite a small sample size, the Cardinals’ 2-1 start seems to indicate that this team is poised to win many games this season. In the St. Joseph Tip-Off Tournament, Wesleyan stifled its opponents on the defensive end, pulling out a pair of victories and a tournament title. However, the Cardinal women were not so stingy against Vassar, and the result was their first loss of the young season.
Perhaps there will be no higher point for the Redbirds than their season opener against Purchase College on Friday, Nov. 16. Wesleyan blew its opponent off the neutral court in West Hartford, holding Purchase to a dismal 11 of 41 shooting, a 26.8 percent rate from the field. Though the Cardinals shot less than 40 percent themselves, they were able to force a turnover per minute to dominate the matchup, allowing them to take 12 more shots than their opponents. With more offensive opportunities and greater success from beyond the arc, the Cardinals still managed to torch Purchase even without their offense truly clicking. Wesleyan jumped out to a nine-point lead in the first half and went on to outscore Purchase 35-12 in the final 20 minutes. No Wesleyan player scored more than 12 points or played more than 26 minutes, running away with a 67-35 rout as a true team effort.
Though the formula the next day against host University of St. Joseph was much the same, the execution was lacking. The result was an overtime finish to resolve the 52-52 tie after 40 minutes of play. Once again, Wesleyan’s foe missed over two-thirds of its shots, but the Cardinals did not fare much better; St. Joe’s was 20 of 62 from the field, while Wes hit four more shots on the same number of attempts. Neither team led by more than six points at any time during regulation, and if not for the grace of two superb performances, the Cardinals would have been trounced.
Captain Kendra Harris ’13 registered her first double-double of the year, commanding the paint with 13 points and 12 rebounds on 6 of 13 shooting. Then there was Dreisen Heath ’15, the tournament MVP-to-be who connected on 10 of 11 shots en route to 25 points in just 29 minutes. Wesleyan was lucky to have Harris and Heath, as the rest of the team flatlined offensively, combining to make just eight of their 42 attempts; while Harris and Heath scored 38 themselves, their teammates recorded just 28 more points.
Fortunately, Wes jumped out quickly at the beginning of the overtime period. Scoring contributions from Heath, Amber Wessells ’14, KellyAnn Rooney ’14, and Cherkira Lashley ’15 sparked an 11-3 run, giving the Cardinals a 63-55 lead with 1:33 remaining, the largest margin of the game. Though St. Joe’s turned the tide with six consecutive points of their own, cutting the lead to two, Wessells and Rooney iced the game from the free throw line. It was a bumpy affair, but the Cardinals managed to escape with a 66-61 victory and a Tip-Off Tournament championship.
And yet, the Cardinals did not get the luxury of a honeymoon following their tense win, driving up to Poughkeepsie, NY to play Vassar College on the road on Tuesday, Nov. 20. Wesleyan did top 40 percent from the field for the first time this season, but it also was outshot by its opponent for the first time. Vassar hit an even 44 percent of its shots, 50 percent of its threes, and all 14 of its free throws. The home team also had the two leading scorers in the contest, as Hannah Seftieber and Cydni Matsuoka each hit seven of their eight shots for a combined 40 points.
Uncommonly outgunned on offense, Wesleyan was rarely close in this one. With 9:40 left in the first half, Vassar was out to a 12-point lead, and though Wes battled back, it went into the break down 32-28. Vassar fired out of the gate in the second frame to bring the lead back to double digits, creating the largest margin of the game when it went up 55-41 with 8:06 remaining.
That’s when the Cardinals caught fire, locking down defensively and holding Vassar to just two points over the next six and a half minutes. When Jess Cherenza ’15 sunk two free throws with 1:30 on the clock, Wesleyan had engineered a 16-2 run to finally knot the score up 57-57. But just when it seemed like the Cardinals would pull off a second straight dramatic win, Vassar started getting to the line. Six unanswered points from the charity stripe put Wes back in a hole, and a layup by Wessells in the final seconds was not going to cut it. It was an admirable effort to turn a blowout into a dogfight, but Wesleyan nevertheless fell to Vassar 63-59.
Despite the recent loss, the Cardinals are still in the midst of a nice start and have shown an encouraging will to grind through tough games. Women’s basketball has its home opener on Friday, Nov. 30 in the Courtyard by Marriot Tournament. Wesleyan is set to take on Johnson and Wales University in the opening round, and it will move on to play either Mitchell College or St. Joseph’s College (Long Island) on Saturday, Dec. 1, pending Friday’s result.