After defeating the top-seeded Smith College Pioneers in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference championship this past Sunday, the Springfield College women’s basketball team has been crowned champions of the NEWMAC and have earned an automatic qualification into the NCAA Championship Tournament.
The Pride will be traveling to Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y. on Friday to take on the No. 9 Amherst Lord Jeffs in the first round.
“I am going to be honest, it hasn’t really hit me yet,” said coach Naomi Graves, who will be making her sixth trip to the NCAA Tournament in 23 years at the helm. “Obviously it is great. It is exciting for us. I think it’s a tribute to our players and it’s not just about recruitment and refreshment. I think it’s the blending of old and new, and I think everyone has a piece as to why we are successful. From the starters, to the captains, to the subs, to the freshmen, it’s everybody coming together for us this year.”
After finishing the 2012-2013 season with a 4-20 overall record, the Pride entered this season with much higher expectations. They were a year older, a year more mature, and hungry for success.
With the much needed experience from junior forward Jaimie Bickelhaupt and guard Andrea Moschetta, to some key contributions from freshmen Ava Adamopoulos and Lexi Windwer sprinkled on top, it appeared as if the Pride had the perfect recipe for success.
Over the course of the season, the Pride showed that lack of experience early on, going 2-3 in their first five games. Following the rather sluggish start, the Pride rallied off seven straight victories, including a first-place finish in the Hampton Inn West Springfield/Naismith Classic with wins over Maine Maritime and Drew University.
After posting a 10-10 record in conference play this year, the Pride entered the post-season tournament as the sixth seed, making a trip to the NEWMAC championship that much more difficult. The first test for the Pride was the Coast Guard Academy Bears.
In the regular season finale, the Pride fell to Coast Guard 43-42 in a close battle. Drawing the Bears in the first round of the NEWMAC Tournament, the Pride knew what they needed to do in order to come out on top.
“Although we were the sixth seed, we were still very confident heading into the NEWMAC Tournament,” said junior captain Andrea Moschetta. “We had the mindset of, ‘There is no way we are going to lose.’ When we found out we would be playing Coast Guard it motivated us even more because we lost to them twice previously. We wanted to get some revenge on them, and what a better place to do it than in the conference tournament.”
In front of a packed house in New London, Conn., the Pride took care of business. Aided by a double-double consisting of 13 points and 11 rebounds from junior forward Jaimie Bickelhaupt, the Pride came out of their quarterfinal match-up with a 57-54 victory and a trip to Smith College to take on Wheaton in the semifinal.
Against the second-seeded Lady Lyons of Wheaton College, Bickelhaupt kept her hot hand and netted 20 points and seven rebounds in a 78-63 upset victory over the Lyons. Posting her 13th double-double of the season, Bickelhaupt now ranks 37th among all of Division III women’s basketball athletes in this statistical category.
Also playing a key role in the victory over Coast Guard, junior guard Riley Fake contributed with 10 points off the bench, while sophomore forward Emily Gins tallied nine of her own. Moschetta was instrumental in the victory, netting eight points and seven rebounds in the victory.
Following the win over Wheaton, the Pride were ready to take on the tallest task of the NEWMAC Tournament, for they were to face the top-seeded Smith College in their own gym.
However, the Pride were up to the challenge.
Strong showings from Bickelhaupt and Gins helped Springfield to a 51-43 victory over the Pioneers, in which Bickelhaupt posted a 14 point, eight rebound performance. Gins, a sophomore from Fort Myers, Fla., posted 13 points and 14 rebounds and was instrumental down the stretch, hitting 11-of-12 free-throws throughout the course of the game.
For her efforts, Bickelhaupt was named the NEWMAC Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
“I just wanted to make sure I was utilizing positive self-talk the whole time, said Bickelhaupt, who was recognized for her efforts throughout the season by getting named to the NEWMAC conference’s first team. “Coming from last year it was so hard to get my mind right coming into the year. Coach Graves definitely instilled a lot of confidence in me. When I went into games I thought that I had to do the best that I could do and everything just kind of fell into place.”
The Pride had done it, literally going from worst to first. Just one season ago, they were the bottom-feeder of the conference. However, this season, they found themselves at the top of the podium come tournament’s end and punched themselves a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
“It kind of made this year seem so much sweeter,” commented Bickelhaupt. “We were so frustrated with our season last year and we wanted to turn the program around. We just never expected it to happen this quickly. We thought that this year would be a rebuilding year and next year would be the year we would go for the title. Everyone just stepped up. We had no pressure throughout the entire tournament because we were such an underdog. We just played our best basketball.”
The freshmen contributors were key for the Pride all season. They had the shooter, Lexi Windwer, a freshman guard from Milton, Mass. who led the team with 40 total three-pointers this season and they had the size, with the 6-foot-2 Ava Adamopoulos, who averaged 7.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Adamopoulos was instrumental down the stretch in the NEWMAC championship game when she netted three straight layups, extending the Pride’s lead from four points to 10.
“I think everyone on this campus knows who she is,” said Graves of her boisterous freshman center. “She is such a social butterfly in some ways. I think she has grown so well throughout the season. She has come up so big in so many games. She changes people’s defense just from her presence alone. She has worked really hard and she has matured as a college athlete and understanding on how to do little things really well. We have been working with Lexi really hard on closeouts and she stepped up. Lexi has a bright future here. It’s exciting to see her improve.”
The Pride have no easy task in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, for they will be taking on the ninth-ranked Amherst College Lord Jeffs. This season, the Lord Jeffs posted a 24-3 record despite falling in the New England Small College Athletic Conference championship game to Tufts University.
As for Naomi Graves and the rest of the Pride, they just want to play hard and enjoy the ride.
“I just want them to play hard,” added Graves. “We knew that over the course of the season we were going to make mistakes, we just needed to leave it all on the court and we needed to work hard. I can’t thank people enough for the support of our program. Last year when we weren’t doing so well I had tons of support and now that we are successful I have that same support, but that’s just what Springfield College is all about.”