By Hayden Choate
For the first time in program history, the Springfield College women’s basketball team has started its season with 16 straight wins. The Pride (16-0) are tied for No. 9th in the Women’s Basketball Association Division III National Coaches Poll, and No. 15 in the D3hoops.com National Top 25 poll, as of Jan. 26.
The Pride have passed every test they have been given, including beating rival Babson in a non-conference game, 75-71, on Jan. 12. During this incredible run, Springfield head coach Naomi Graves has seen the bond between her players strengthen.
“I think that there’s a trust, so it’s amazing, it’s rare. … Being 16-0 is awesome. These kids deserve that, they work hard,” Graves said.
Senior guard Stephanie Lyons believes the success has come from a lot of things.
“Being 16-0 feels like everything we have done through our COVID season, our summer and leadership workshops, and hard work every day is showing on the court,” senior guard Stephanie Lyons said.
Over the course of the season, the Pride’s biggest strength has been their depth. Whether it’s graduate students Sidney Wentland and Summer Matlick — who are playing in their fifth collegiate seasons — or the sophomores and first-years in their debut season, everyone contributes.
“It’s not about one person; it never has been,” Graves said after the team’s 73-18 win over Wellesley on Saturday. “I think this year everyone has bought into that, and everybody steps up at different times. We share the ball — you saw today — but you could see that against Babson.”
Springfield, missing two key players in the game against Babson had four players score 12 or more points and five players with two or more assists.
“It just feels good, everyone wants everyone to do better,” sophomore Riley Robinson said. “It’s not that we just want one person to be the star of the show, we all want to equally have our time to shine and have our moment to feel like we’re contributing to the game.”
Every team deals with injuries throughout the course of the season, but in addition to players getting hurt, they’ve also had to deal with the challenge of players being out with COVID. In the last few weeks, Springfield has had to overcome some adversity dealing with players being out because of the virus.
“It’s an ebb and flow. When someone goes down, somebody steps up and then when they come back they step in,” Graves said. “I just think that it goes back to what Riley said, that we’re a team and we faced adversity head-on and it gives other people opportunities.”
Younger players such as Robinson and first-years Angela Czmeremcha and Emma Glaser have stepped up in their first seasons with the Pride.
“It’s awesome to see the hard work and all the adversity we have overcome show positively on our record,” senior Amanda Carr said.
Coming into the season, the team wanted to make the bond between the players strong and build the overall team chemistry.
“I think it comes from both on and off the court we bond with each other,” sophomore Kayla Madden said. “Off the court, we’re able to learn each other as people better and understand each other and that helps us translate it to the court and we trust each other on the court as well.”
Even though the majority of the group came into the season having never played a game in a Springfield uniform, the team has been on the same page thus far with a high level of respect and love for one another.
“I believe that our team chemistry is the reason that we are doing so well,” Lyons said. “We have such great chemistry off the court, it leads to on the court. That’s why we play so well. These girls are my sisters and we are a special family.”
Carr agreed. “Every girl on this team is close and knows the role they have and having this is so special,” Carr said. “This group of first-years has been amazing with attitude, our grad students have transitioned onto our team so well. Everything is flowing great and I feel the love coming together from all grades. That love is showing on the court and plays a big part in our undefeated record right now.”
“You would never click with a better group of girls,” Robinson said. “I know each one of us treats each other like we’re family, like we’re sisters and I think it goes out through the whole team, we’re all so tight-knit that it just makes sense that everything is going our way right now.”
Robinson credits the senior leaders of Carr, Lyons and Grace Dzindolet for buying into what Graves and coaching staff have preached to get the team to connect.
“I also think that our senior leaders are very good. I know our seniors have bought into the process,” Robinson said. “They’ve kind of guided us throughout to make everything so good and even the coaches, we have meetings to talk to make sure everyone is on the same page.”
The team enters the heart of its NEWMAC schedule with games against MIT, Babson, Clark, WPI and Smith as their next five matchups. Carr knows that having the 16-0 start makes other teams even more eager to hand them their first loss, but the Pride only enjoys the competition.
“It keeps us hungry with the target on our back, and we are taking it one game and one practice at a time,” Carr said.
The Pride have eight games left in the regular season before they hope to battle for a NEWMAC championship. Regardless, Lyons is grateful for what has already been a historic season.
“I will never forget this season,” Lyons said. “No matter what happens.”
Photo: Springfield College Athletics