After stepping off the bus for the sixth time, the Springfield College women’s basketball team found themselves preparing in an unfamiliar locker room, battling against an opposing home crowd, as the away team. Again.
But this game was different. It was a conference game, against Smith College.
“We were down by eight at halftime,” recalled junior Taylor Hall. “Coach [Graves] came in and just said, ‘Do the little things, like rebounding, setting good screens to get people open, making good decisions, so as long as you do the little things, the dirty work, it’s all going to work out.’”
The Pride came out strong in the second half, holding Smith to a mere three points in the third quarter. They went on to claim their first conference victory, 59-52, against a team head coach Naomi Graves believes is one of the top NEWMAC competitors. Smith had defeated Springfield by 20 points last season.
With that, the Pride leveled their overall record to 3-3 and concluded what proved to be a challenging, yet promising first month of games — all of which were on the road.
The team tipped-off the 2018-2019 season with a wide 76-37 win at MCLA. However, they went on a three-game losing streak, beginning with cross-town rival Western New England University, 58-49. That was followed by back-to-back losses at the Middlebury Tip-Off Classic against Tufts, 89-51, and Middlebury, 63-57, both of whom are NESCAC teams.
Yet, those three losses would prove to be more beneficial to the team than a stat sheet could ever show.
“I think the Western New England game was a really good reality check,” said Graves. “If we aren’t ready and we don’t show up, we aren’t going to win.”
A valuable lesson, considering the Pride would be headed into three consecutive NESCAC competitors. Though, the team made no excuses.
“It’s definitely a lot better to play against teams that are really good, because it’s good exposure to that, and you challenge yourself,” said Hall. “You can learn just as much from losses.”
“I knew early on we’d figure out where we were,” added Graves. “And we did.”
It was then the Pride took lessons from their losses, made adjustments on the court, and ended their losing streak in style, to a NESCAC team whom they hadn’t defeated in 10 years: Williams. This same momentum contributed to the Smith victory that followed.
“I think the key thing for our winning has been that we did a better job at taking care of the basketball, and we play better defense,” Graves said. “Instead of exchanging baskets, we actually stopped teams from scoring, and I think that when you play defense where you stop teams from scoring, that can get them in their heads. They don’t know why they’re not scoring, they start thinking too much.”
It all comes down to the little things, the dirty work. No one knows that better than Hall.
“[My] first two years, I had post players in front of me that could play, so I could do the dirty work like getting rebounds and just playing defense,” said Hall.
Having made her way into the starting lineup this season, the Tolland, Connecticut native continues to focus on the little things, while also adjusting to her new role.
“Now I have to put everything together. My role is really to rebound, [get] offensive putbacks, looking for my shot as well as getting other people shots,” Hall explained. “I want to play good defense. If I can stop my player from scoring, that’ll help my team enormously.”
Graves believes Hall was ready to take on the responsibility and implications that come with being a starter.
“Taylor has always been that steady, confident player when things were smooth and easy,” she said. “And now this year, she’s become a steady and confident player when things aren’t easy and they’re hard.”
Though, it’s not the stats that Graves is most excited about. It’s her presence on the court.
“What I’m most impressed with is her leadership,” she added. “Taylor’s not a vocal person, she [typically] leads by example more than she does verbally, and she’s starting to really be vocal, so I’m excited that she’s feeling good enough about herself to [do so].”
Hall added, “I don’t feel [pressured], because I know my team believes in me, I know my coaches believe in me, so it’s not that hard to believe in yourself.”
Hall’s developing leadership of encouraging her teammates to do the little things, combined with the momentum from two critical victories, and finally being able to tip-off their home games in Blake Arena, leave the Pride aspiring to go 3-0 in the final games before Winter Break.
Next, the Pride travel to Wellesley on Saturday with tip-off at 1 p.m.
Photo courtesy of Jack Margaros