Teamwork, the buzzword for teams of all ages, playing all sports, is what brought the women’s basketball team back to a winning season. At least that’s what Senior Captain Maddie Bledsoe claims, who notices how the team’s renewed commitment to be successful has impacted their season.
“A big difference that I have seen throughout my four years here is the attitude of the team and the willingness to give time and effort to the team,” Bledsoe said. “This year we have more people in the gym working hard than in my previous three years and that is a huge difference for us.”
She also recognizes how the strong camaraderie among her teammates could be what is bringing them to their first postseason run in four years.
“Our team is most successful when we’re playing together and sharing the ball,” she said. “When we’re running and playing with energy, we can hang with almost anyone. Our bench has also been amazing this year, people are always up and cheering which is awesome.”
Watching Bledsoe and the rest of the Cardinals face off against the Trinity Bantams on Friday night made this pretty convincing.
The Bantams had to win on Friday night if they wanted a chance to make the NESCAC playoffs, and it was evident in their aggressive play. They were scrappy, motivated, and determined to give Wesleyan their best game. Wes had a clear size advantage, but it did not deter Trinity from driving to the basket. The commanding presence of Bledsoe and junior Tara Berger inside did little to scare the Bantams out of the paint. Instead, they moved the ball well on offense to create shots in and outside.
Still, the Dirty Birds did not let the Bantams pull off an upset and instead reflected the Bantams’ energy to earn their fifteenth victory of the season.
Though Friday night’s game was not Bledsoe’s best, at least according to the stat sheet, that’s merely because she has set the bar so high for herself. Bledsoe is the team’s second-highest scorer, has the highest three-point shot percentage, and makes the most rebounds per game. Additionally, Bledsoe was recently named the NESCAC Player of the Week for the second time this season, an honor she says is compounded by the overall success of her team.
“It feels really good to be recognized as NESCAC Player of the Week,” Bledsoe said. “What makes it even better is that both weeks we had huge team wins, the most recent being our road win at Conn College.”
She adds to her team in ways beyond points, rebounds, and assists in her ability to keep the ball moving and force her way into the paint when the shot clock is winding down, creating scoring opportunities for the Cardinals’ offense.
Her ability to do this stems from her confidence on the court, which she attributes to practice and outside support.
“This year especially I have built up my confidence by working hard on my own and making sure I get enough shots up to feel confident taking them in games,” she said. “Also, my coaches this year have shown trust in me which has in turn helped me feel more confident in myself on the court.”
Bledsoe’s confidence seemed to have spread to the rest of the team as well, as they fought off a challenging team of Bantams this weekend.
The Bantams stayed within pecking distance of the Cardinals through the first half, and Wes lead 30-22 at halftime. In the third quarter, the Bantams picked up their offensive game, while the Cardinals struggled to find their rhythm. At the end of three, Trinity outscored Wes 17-9 and tied the game at 39.
Without letting their momentary lapse in play get the best of them, the Cardinals came into the fourth quarter ready to stop the Bantams from flying away with a win. Bledsoe hit a layup to start off the quarter, putting the Cardinals back ahead, where they would stay for the rest of the game.
In the fourth quarter, the Cards outscored the Bantams 20-11 to propel themselves to a 59-50 victory.
With this win, Wes is now ranked fifth in the NESCAC, and with only two regular-season games remaining, it looks like they’ll have a spot in the postseason. The Bantams, however, are not as lucky, as this loss dropped them to tenth in the conference, and therefore out of playoff contention.
As they head into the playoffs, the Cardinals hope to keep improving their game.
“A big focus for us in playoffs is to make sure to play a full 40 minutes in each game that we’re in,” Bledsoe noted. “We have had spurts in games where we play great basketball combined with some lapses, and I think if we can play a full 40 minutes with no lapses we can have a lot of success in the postseason.”
The regular season winds down for good next weekend with a Friday night matchup against Colby and a Saturday Senior Day matinée against Bowdoin. The Mules are currently ranked just below the Cardinals in the NESCAC and will undoubtedly come prepared to compete. Bowdoin, on the other hand, is ranked second, having only lost to Amherst this entire season.
Though the Polar Bears average 82.7 points per game, they only scored 45 in their game against Amherst. If the Cards maintain a strong defense, harnessing the power of teamwork that has brought them this far, the Polar Bears will be in for a surprise on Saturday afternoon.
Rose Griffin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.