I am so ready for basketball season. Jumping, running, shooting, and scoring, there’s no end to the excitement. The women’s basketball team has given us a clear reason to look forward to this winter the past two weekends, dominating in three of their first four games of the season to open the 2017-2018 season 3-1.
The weekend of Nov. 18, the team traveled to Troy, N.Y. for the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Tip-Off Tournament. There, the Cardinals faced the Salem State University Vikings on Friday night, and then Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Saturday afternoon.
In both games, the Cardinals took a commanding lead from the beginning and did not let up. Against Salem State on Friday night, Maeve Vitale ’18 put the Cardinals on the board for the first time this season by hitting a three-pointer just 20 seconds into the game. With that, the Red and Black set the tone for how the rest of the competition would play out. They led 41-23 at halftime, shooting 48 percent from the field and an impressive 50 percent from three-point territory. The Vikings struggled, shooting only 21.9 percent from the field and going one for five from beyond the arc.
Wesleyan again came out strong in the second half, outscoring the Vikings 20-8 in the third quarter and then 18-16 in the fourth quarter. The game ended with an emphatic Wesleyan victory, 79-47. Though the Vikings shot more accurately from the free throw line, going 17-28 at 60.7 percent, and kept their turnovers, 19, below Wesleyan’s 23, they struggled to take advantage of the Red Birds’ turnovers and gave the Cardinals too many second chances and too much room inside. In fact, 34 of the Cardinals’ points came off second chances, and 30 were scored from inside the paint.
The Cards’ success in their first game can be attributed to their team’s synergy and teamwork. All eleven players that went on the floor scored, with Olivia Gorman ’19 leading the team with 16 points. Maddie Bledsoe ’18 added 15 points for the Cardinals and also led the team with nine rebounds, closely followed by Tara Berger ’19, who managed eight rebounds as well as five blocks.
“We’re already a much better team than we were last year!” Berger said. “We have our top four returning scorers from last season back, our sophomores improved a lot over the summer, and we’ve added some talented freshmen. Our experience and depth should make us very competitive and hopefully in the mix to make the NESCAC playoffs at the end of the season.”
Saturday afternoon’s game started out unusually, with a technical foul call on Albany resulting in two Wes free throws. Vitale made both and gave the Cardinals the lead they would keep throughout the game. After that, the game was very similar to the one played the night before. Wesleyan outscored, out-rebounded, and played cleaner basketball in order to win the game 71-47. The Dirty Birds were able to hold Albany to only 18 points in the first half, so even though Albany played almost even with the Cardinals in the second half, and were only outscored 29-30, they could not recover from their early deficit.
The Cardinals struggled more with the accuracy of their shots in this game, shooting just 35.2 percent. However, because they took 71 shots, they were still able to build and maintain a sizable lead. Wesleyan also got 53 rebounds compared to Albany’s 35, giving them an important edge.
Gorman again led the team in scoring, this time adding 17 points to the board. Vitale followed with 13 points, including three three-pointers. Bledsoe again led in rebounds, grabbing nine to help her team on the offensive and defensive ends.
Last Tuesday, the Cardinals headed to Amherst to face off against the Mammoths, the defending national champions. The Cardinals struggled to get their shots to fall in the first half and ended up trailing 31-14, only shooting 24.4 percent. They dominated on the boards, grabbing the majority of both offensive and defensive rebounds, but they simply could not recover from the 20 turnovers they committed in the first half. So although the Cardinals improved their shooting and cleaned up their offense in the second half, they fell to Amherst 64-40.
Finally, the team played their home opener on Sunday afternoon against Drew University. The game started with a three from Gorman, and the Cardinals never looked back. Though Drew managed to tie the score at eight just five minutes in, a Vitale three-pointer again pushed the Cardinals in front, where they would remain for the rest of the game.
Wes commanded the floor offensively and defensively, shooting 47.7 percent from the field, getting 52 rebounds to Drew’s 28, and only allowing nine second-chance points. They outscored Drew in every quarter, earning a decisive 84-48 victory.
This weekend, the team will play against University of Maine Presque Isle at the Courtyard by Marriott tournament at home on Friday night. The Maine Owls are 0-3 this season and will seek their first win in Middletown. It will be a battle of the birds at 6 p.m. in the Silloway Gymnasium. You won’t want to miss it.
Rose Griffin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.