By Hayden Choate
For the first time since Feb. 28th, 2020, the Springfield College women’s basketball team walked into Blake Arena to play a real game, in front of fans.
Not only did they walk out with the win but as head coach Naomi Graves said after the game they made “a statement” winning 73-38 over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
“We wanted to make a statement,” Graves said. “Literally, I mean that’s what I said to them, this is our house and we want to make a statement and we’re hungry and we wanna get out there and let people know who we are and how good we’re going to be.”
The Pride came out extremely strong in the first quarter leading 23-8 at the end of the 10 minutes and going on a 14-point run.
“I thought the first five minutes set the tone, starters got out and got after it,” Graves said.
Junior Sam Hourihan, one of the few returning players from the 2019-2020 season had seven points in the first quarter while senior Grace Dzindolet had six, giving the Pride the commanding lead early.
“A lot of things worked,” Hourihan said about the strong start. “We’re so speedy, especially in transition, our point guard Rachel Vinton is lights out speed so I think that is what worked the most for us and just ball pressure, we’re pressing them, they were tired.”
The 13-point lead at the end of the first quarter would end up being the smallest lead of the game as RPI couldn’t not handle Springfield’s depth on both ends of the court.
“We went deep into our bench,” Graves said. “Everybody got in and they got significant minutes.”
Despite a year with no competition, Springfield entered into the new season with a lot of depth on their roster and were ready to prove that on Friday night. The Pride return five players total from the roster in 2019-20, with three seniors and two juniors.
“We’ve got a lot of depth,” Graves said. “The strength of our team is that I’ve got ten kids that probably could have started for me at some point in my career here, so when you have ten kids you can run, because those kids get tired and I just send another person in and it’s nice.”
Springfield has three first-years on the team, all who came off the bench Friday night. Sophomores Riley Robinson and Kayla Madden, along with graduate students Sidney Wetland and Summer Matlack also played in their first game at Blake Arena.
“We have a different group of kids,” Graves said. “We can extend and I tell people I’m not a system coach. I don’t do it one-way if I’ve got talent to run then I’m going to work it to run and we have some talent to run, like Rachel Vinton in the open court is just beautiful. You watch her play you’re just like wow, and I’m fortunate to have her and Sam on the same team. Then I got a grad student that did a nice job today too, Sid (Wetland) did a lot of nice things then I’ve got a lot of good sophomores and freshmen that are stepping up and Sis (Amanda Carr) and Grace (Dzindolet).”
The senior leadership group of Dzindolet, Carr and Lyons all combined for 20 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.
“Grace had one of the best games I’ve seen her have in Blake Arena, she played really well and then Steph’s that steady calm but tough-nosed kid that’s the glue,” Graves said.
Playing in front of an enthusiastic crowd in Blake Arena for their season opener was something the Pride did not take for granted.
“It felt amazing, coming to Springfield, I love Blake Arena, love the atmosphere, and there’s nothing like it, to wear the jersey and to be able to play here and have that many fans,” Hourihan said.
“It was electric. My assistant and I just talking about that,” Graves said. “People came out and we really appreciate it. We hope they enjoyed it enough to come back. I think it was electric for us tonight, it was really meaningful, it’s been really hard, without the game, it’s been really hard and our kids have been working on a positive note really together and stuff, and having that sixth man that crowd, the friends, the family, has been awesome it was just unbelievable to me.”
The Pride have a three-game stretch on the road starting with a crosstown matchup with Western New England on Tuesday.
“We just want to take the momentum and keep going,” Hourihan said. “We have a couple of away games coming up but I think this is a really good start, especially a big win at home is a really good way to start the season.”
Photo: Hayden Choate/The Student