The women’s basketball season has come to an end. After an exciting regular season and an even more exciting playoff run, the Cardinals now head into the offseason with plenty to be proud of and plenty to look forward to next season. The Amherst Mammoths brought their best to Saturday’s semifinal game and ended the Cards’ 2017-2018 season just short of a shot at the NESCAC Championship.
The game started competitively, as both teams played tremendous defense that kept the collective score to 23 points in the first quarter. The Cards fought off the defending National Champions early, getting their fair share of rebounds to finish the first ten minutes down just 12-11 after a pair of free throws from Tara Berger ’19 shrunk the Mammoth’s lead to one.
The second quarter came and Amherst put their foot on the pedal. The Mammoths went on a 6-0 run to start the quarter, to extend their lead and force a Wesleyan timeout. The timeout proved to be of no avail as Amherst extended their run to 10-0 before Berger posted up down low to give the Cards their first basket of the second quarter. Still, the Cards were clearly off balance and only scored three more points with a free throw from Emma Roush ’21 and a pair from Berger to end the half trailing by a score of 20-16.
The start of the second half was promising, as a quick three-pointer from Maddie Bledsoe ’18 hinted at the start of a comeback. Unfortunately, Amherst did not allow the Cardinals’ cautious optimism to linger for long, as they went on to hold Wes to eight points while scoring 17 themselves. The third quarter ended with Amherst leading the Red and Black 47-24.
The Mammoths showed no signs of slowing down in the fourth quarter, starting the final period of play with a commanding 9-0 run. Wesleyan finished its season on a high note with a rebound from first year Ericka Ekhator, who passed to Katy O’Connor ’21, who then connected on a buzzer-beater from beyond the arc. This performance by the team’s younger talents is a positive indication of what could be in store next season.
On Monday afternoon, the NCAA announced the at-large bids for its prestigious tournament. The Cardinals did not get a nod, which officially ended their season. Beyond Amherst, who received an automatic bid for winning the conference, Bowdoin and Tufts will also get a chance to represent the NESCAC and compete in the Division III Tournament this season. The Cardinals will have to look forward to next year.
The team will sorely miss graduating seniors Kadijah Mathews, Maeve Vitale, and Bledsoe, who helped the team lead their best campaign since the 2007-2008 season. This year, the Cardinals were seeded the highest in the NESCAC Tournament since that season and also led the conference in rebounds, with 46.5 per game. They also finished second in scoring and rebounding with 68.5 points per game and 14.5 assists per game. Undoubtedly, the team will continue to grow through the offseason and into next winter.
Coming into this season, people outside of the team had few expectations for them. While players sensed a change in the team’s atmosphere, outsiders only saw the team’s less successful last three seasons. With little change in the starting roster from last year, it made sense to assume this season would be more of the same.
“A big difference that I have seen 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.”
However, the Cardinals made it clear that they were planning to make the 2017-2018 season one of their best with an 8-2 start, including a victory against Little Three rival Williams in overtime. If the Cardinals can start next season with more of the same, and embrace the positive attitude that made all of the difference this year, the 2018-2019 season may prove to be record-breaking.
Rose Griffin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.