Ball is in the air: the season has started for women’s basketball. Last year, the Cardinals stumbled out of the gate, hovering around .500 through the first ten games of the season. This year’s squad has started out remarkably different.
The Red Birds opened the season with a six-game winning streak, starting with a 65–53 victory against Fairleigh Dickinson University. Sophomores Maddie Clark ’22 and Marina Petruzzi ’22 led the way in scoring. The guard combo notched 34 points in the opener, more than half of the team’s total points.
The winning streak also included the Courtyard Tournament, hosted by Wesleyan in Silloway Gymnasium. The Cardinals played back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday, but beat Mitchell College 76-67 en route to a victory in the championship game over Emerson College. In the championship game was the score was 29-29 at the half, but the Cards weren’t fazed.
“The winning of the Courtyard tournament came down to our team really coming together at half time and knowing that we were more than capable of winning,” captain Ava Tompkins ’20 said. “All we had to do was go play our game.”
The Cardinals did play a strong game in the second half, outscoring Emerson by 15. Tompkins hit a layup to finish off an 11–0 run at the end of the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach. Emma Roush ’21 led the team in scoring with 16 points off the bench. Her performance was rewarded with an All-Tournament Team selection. But she wasn’t the only Cardinal to be honored by the tournaments end: Katy O’Connor ’21 was named Tournament MVP, capping off an impressive performance with 14–8–1 in the final game, to go along with two blocks. The junior forward is almost averaging a double-double on the season with 11 points and 9.9 rebounds per game.
Tompkins believes the strong start to the season came from the team’s productive preparation.
“I think we can attribute our 6–0 start to the season to our hard work during the pre-season and our two weeks of practice,” Thompkins said. “As a NESCAC school, we start two weeks behind the rest of Division III, so our pre season is very important.”
Tompkins is averaging just under six rebounds per game through the first eight games of the season. Her defense has also been vital to the team. She leads the team with one and a half blocks per game, and is third on the team with one steal per game.
Defense has been a strong suit for the Red and Black this year. Over the course of the six-game win streak, the Red Birds held their opponents under 60 points in all but one game.
“Defense has been our main focus in practice,” Tompkins said. “[The team is] pushing each other to play the hardest we can each day.”
The Red Birds are holding opposing teams to 34.5 percent shooting from the field, and an ice cold 28.8 percent from three-point range.
While a lot of attention is on the defensive side of the ball, someone has to score points. Those two players have been Marina Petruzzi and defending NESCAC Rookie of the Year Caleigh Ryan ’22. They have both been averaging over 15 points per game on the season, and Ryan has helped out in running the offense with four assists per game, second only to Tompkins’ 4.4. Ryan even had consecutive double-doubles, putting up 18–12 in the home opener, and following that up with 23-11 in the first Courtyard Tournament game.
One of the keys to Ryan’s scoring success is her ability to get the free-throw line consistently. She leads the team in total free throw attempts, makes, and percentage. She is getting to the line around five times per game and hitting those shots at a 74.4 percent clip.
The season got off to a great start in tight contests, but not all close games end favorably. The Cards eventually dropped a game in an overtime loss, 93–91, to New York University.
“The game against NYU stung more than normal because we played well, and we played together and still did not come out on top,” Tompkins said.
The Violets lead the Cardinals by 12 at the half, and had a lead as large as 17 with seven minutes to go in the third quarter. But NYU, led by 34 point-scorer Janean Cuffee, tied it by the end of regulation. With the score still tied in overtime, Cuffee hit the game sealing free throws with 16 seconds remaining.
The Cardinals had four players reach double figures in one of their best offensive performances of the season and shot well from behind the arc. Yet they missed 10 free throws, and NYU took advantage of every opportunity they had down the stretch.
“I think the team has taken the feeling we got from that loss and used it to fuel us in practice and hopefully the rest of the season,” Tompkins said. “We are just getting started.”
Rocky D’Antonio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.