Since we all left for winter break, the women’s basketball team has remained hard at work. The Cardinals maintained a 6-3 record over the break, bringing their overall record to 12-5, and continued to show how much the team has improved since last season. With six regular-season games remaining, the team has already tied their total number of wins from the 2013-2014 season, which was the last time the team qualified for the NESCAC tournament.
Over the past three years, the Cardinals were not able to break a .500 winning percentage, and were left out of the postseason. Captain Maeve Vitale ’18 believes that their success this year is due to their ability to come out on top during hard-fought games. It was not that the team could not compete in years past, but that it could not last the full 40 minutes required of a team to win. This season, 7 of the team’s 12 wins had the Cardinals winning by less than 15 points, showing their commitment to finishing each game strong.
“[We’ve had] the confidence and composure to close out games,” Vitale said. “We’ve been more successful because we’ve demanded more from each other, which starts in practice.”
After returning from their winter break, the team showed off their newfound confidence and accompanying dominance in Nashville, Tenn., at the Music City Classic. There, they beat the University of Dubuque 66-54 and crushed Goucher College 103-35.
To ring in the new year, the Red and Black played Little Three rivals Williams and Amherst, each for the second time this season. Though the Cardinals prevailed over the Ephs in an overtime thriller in December, they fell short this second time around, as Williams prevailed in a 69-64 finish. Amherst was also a challenge, but Wes showed major improvements since their face-off in November, when they lost to the Mammoths 64-40. Wesleyan played a much closer game and even outscored the top-ranked Amherst team in the second half, but the Cards were not able to claim victory, losing 66-51.
In another tough loss, the Cardinals fell to the Middlebury Panthers 77-60, dropping to 2-3 in conference play. Though the game was tied at the end of the first quarter and Middlebury was only ahead by three at the end of the first half, they pulled ahead in the third quarter, and Wesleyan never recovered.
Luckily, winter break was primarily a series of wins. Beyond their victories in Nashville, the team also triumphed against Hamilton, Springfield College, Conn College, and, most recently, Endicott College.
To cap a successful final week of winter break basketball, senior captain Maddie Bledsoe ’18 was named NESCAC Player of the Week. She posted her sixth double-double of the season against Conn., scoring 19 points and capturing 21 rebounds.
The Cardinals will play their first games of the second semester tonight at Bates and tomorrow afternoon at Tufts. The Bobcats have struggled this season and currently hold a 7-12 record. Though the Cardinals have performed better overall, the Bobcats played similarly close games against Middlebury and Williams and beat the former when Wes did not. Friday’s matchup should be full of competitive play.
Tufts, on the other hand, is sure to be a challenge. The Jumbos hold a strong 16-2 record and are currently ranked third in the NESCAC, just below Amherst and Bowdoin. To win, the Cardinals will have to maintain a strong offense and keep up the pace of their play.
“Our team is most successful when we are getting stops, running in transition, and sharing the ball so we can get easy baskets,” Vitale said.
If they’re able to follow this game plan in Medford on Saturday, Tufts should be prepared for an upset.
Currently, the Cardinals are tied for fifth in the NESCAC, and since the top eight teams make it to the playoffs, Wes is well positioned for a run into the postseason, something Vitale views as the team’s main goal. She recognized that the team’s performance in the next week will be crucial to their chances of meeting this goal.
“There are some key games we need to win to put ourselves in a good position to do this,” Vitale said.
Extending their three-game win streak with a pair of victories this weekend could easily send the Cardinals on their way to the NESCAC Tournament for the first time in four years.
Rose Griffin can be reached at email@example.com.