And then there were four. The final four for NESCAC women’s basketball is set. The usual suspects are present: Amherst, Bowdoin, Tufts, and Wesleyan. Last weekend’s match ups produced blowouts, so many of the games weren’t really entertaining. This week should be different. Let’s look at the preview:
Wesleyan pulled off an upset win over Middlebury last weekend. The Cards rolled up to Vermont, and stole the show. As always, Maddie Bledsoe stole the show. She recorded a monster double-double (22 pts, 11 rebs), and carried the team like she has all year long. A point of concern, however, is that Wesleyan’s bench only contributed two points the entire afternoon. That abysmal statistic will not fly if the Cards want to know off Amherst. Amherst, of course, comes into Saturday afternoon undefeated. They’re always one of the best teams in the country year in and year out. Hannah Fox led all scorers in the game against Trinity last weekend with 17 points along with five steals. Similar to Wesleyan, Amherst only posted three bench points, but dominated the paint. These two teams are a good match for each other, because they both focus a lot of attention on the paint.
This game is going to be closer than people think. This Amherst team is unbeaten, yes, but they are not unbeatable. Their bench can be shaky, as I mentioned above, and this matchup could be tough for them because Wesleyan has the size and athleticism to handle the Mammoths in the paint. The playoffs implications create an opportunity for the underdog to rise up. So, with all that said, I’m gonna pick the huge upset.
Score prediction: Wesleyan 60-58
(Editor’s Note: Absolutely no chance, but we love Andrew’s enthusiasm.)
This game is going to be one of the best games all season. Bowdoin already smack Tufts, but that was in January. Playoff basketball is different than regular season games. The intensity is up. Bowdoin absolutely throttled Williams last weekend. Kate Kerrigan led the scoring with 16 points, and Abby Kelly dished out five assists. Bowdoin dominated the inside game—much of their 77 points came from inside the paint. Bowdoin’s depth was on display too with 36 bench points. Tufts, on the other hand, smacked Conn College. The Jumbo defense was on full display—only allow the Camels to shoot 34% from the field. The Bo’s also forced seventeen Camel turnovers, and converted them into points. As always, Melissa Baptista was a force inside. She notched 21 points in the decisive victory. Both of these teams are high scoring; however, Bowdoin has proved that they’re special this year.
The playoffs are here! As everyone anticipated prior to the season, Amherst is the top seed. However, a game always starts at 0-0, and the playoffs are no different. Anybody can win. Let’s look briefly at this weekend’s quarterfinal matchups.
1). #8 Trinity vs #1 Amherst
It is hard for me to pick Trinity in this matchup. Everything favors Amherst. Amherst is undefeated; Amherst is at home; Amherst is the number one team in the country. Don’t sleep on Bantams junior forward Courtney Erickson. She leads the Bantams in points, and has logged a ton of minutes for the team. Furthermore, she’s an incredibly efficient scoring–shooting above fifty percent from the field. Amherst, however, has an arsenal of weapons. Sophomore guard Madeline Eck has shown that she is held and shoulders that she’s the best player on the court. She’s one of the leaders in points, and facilitates the offense well.
Prediction: Amherst 60-45
2). #7 Williams vs #2 Bowdoin
Bowdoin really bounced back after a tough loss to Amherst midway through the season. The Polar Bears were one of the only teams this season to give the Mammoths a real challenge, as their high powered offense almost broke down Amherst’s defense. Bowdoin obviously turned the page without losing another game. Bowdoin averages an almost 82 points per game. That number is incredible in college basketball. Their high octane attack is led by Junior guard Abby Kelly, who comes off the bench but is as good a scorer as there is in the league. Williams, on the other hand, will pose a serious threat. The team is led by senior forward Kristin Fechtelkotter. She is the main component of the offense, and hopes this won’t be her lsat game. Don’t sleep on Williams, but I’m picking Bowdoin in the hopes that they’ll meet Amherst in a classic final.
Prediction: Bowdoin 75-68
3). #6 Connecticut College vs #3 Tufts
The ‘Bos have had a rocky conference season by their standards. Losses to top teams Bowdoin and Amherst didn’t feel great, but nonetheless, they’re here again in the playoffs. Anything can happen. They’re second in the conference behind Bowdoin in points, so I’m sure they’ll put up the numbers this weekend. Conn College, on the other hand, is the wildcard in this scenario. They’re not as seasoned as the top three teams, but that could be a good thing because they’re not intimidated. They score a lot of points, third in the ‘Cac’, and will provide an offensive show. I believe it’s destiny that Tufts will end up in the top three, though.
Prediction: Tufts 60-52
4). #4 Middlebury vs #5 Wesleyan
“He’s such a homer! He’s such a homer!” Get over it. I’m going with the Cards here. You know why? Because I watch sports to have fun, and enjoy it. Do I think Midd is the better team? Yes? But what’s the fun in picking the enemy over your own team. I’m rolling with Wes on this one because I believe senior forward Maddie Bledsoe will dominate the paint, and control the time of possession. I don’t care that Wes has to travel to the sticks in granola country. Go Wes. (Editor’s Note: Go Panthers.)
The Bowdoin Polar Bears will be traveling to Amherst, Massachusetts, to square off in a battle of unbeatens. After Saturday, there will likely be only one unbeaten team left in the conference. Amherst has been the top team in the league for a while, and Bowdoin attempts to dethrone them of that title. Here is a preview of the game of the week starting with a breakdown of each team, a coaching comparison, key players comparison, a final word, and my prediction:
#3 Bowdoin (18-0 overall, 4-0 conference):
Bowdoin has the most potent offense in the league averaging 86 ppg, 20 apg, 40% 3pt, and 48% from the field. They haven’t played a very strong schedule relative to Amherst. Bowdoin elected to stay local during winter break, while Amherst traveled across the country to face top talent. Bowdoin currently ranks #3 in the country, and could jump to #1 if they can pull out the victory.
Bowdoin has a wealth of scoring in which no one player dominates like Bates’ Davenport. Instead, the top scorer (Abby Kelly ’19) doesn’t even break fifteen points per game. Kelly, along with Kate Kerrigan ’18 (more on her below) each average double figures, and Bowdoin has four more players averaging over seven points per game. This will put pressure on Amherst’s defense because limiting one player’s offense won’t ensure a victory. The assists and three point percentage convey Bowdoin’s strong offensive playmakers and a diversity of assets.
Even though Bowdoin has been known for its offense this year, a strong case for Bowdoin’s success originates from its defensive play. The Polar Bears only allow 46 ppg and 32% from the field. However, these numbers can be skewed due to weaker opponents. The only major challenge was Tufts in early January, and Bowdoin dominated the ‘Bos on both ends of the floor— beating them by twelve.
#1 Amherst (18-0 overall, 4-0 conference):
Amherst brings a strong offense, but not nearly as prolific as Bowdoin. Amherst averages 65 ppg, 14 apg, 34% 3pt, 43% from the field. Take the difference in statistics with a grain of salt because of the strength of schedule difference. Amherst traveled to Nevada and California to compete against better talent than Bowdoin. In addition, Amherst is ranked #1 in the country. The only close game for the squad was a nine point win over archrival Williams.
Like Bowdoin, there’s no unbelievable scorer that can take over the game. There are several scorers who average over 10 ppg (Madeline Eck ’20 and Hannah Fox ’20) that provide consistent offense. This bodes well for Amherst because there’s no one scorer who can be shut down; the scoring well won’t dry up. I think that Amherst’s offense will be their best defense in defending Bowdoin. That is, Amherst will want to control the time of possession. They won’t take many quick threes in transition, and will set up their halfcourt offense looking for buckets inside the arc. This ball control will slow down Bowdoin, and possibly get them out of their comfort zone.
Defense wins championships, and Amherst’s defense has gotten them two. They only allow 39 ppg with 28% shooting. Those are incredibly low numbers. How do they do it? Fundamentals. Amherst has an uncanny ability to make the opposing offense take bad shots. This comes from limiting second chance opportunities, and closing out hard on shooters. Amherst is certainly athletic, but they win because of disciplined fundamentals and technique.
There’s no doubt that both coaches are up for NESCAC coach of the year. The influence these coaches bring to their respective programs cannot be understated. College kids can get demotivated during the late days of December and early January. Non-winter athletes aren’t on campus, and first semester has concluded. Since basketball has a heavy game schedule, one would think that a bad game for one of these programs could occur. Especially because Amherst is #1, and Bowdoin is #3, they have bullseyes on their backs. G.P. Gromacki of Amherst and Adrienne Shibles of Bowdoin have guided their teams to perfect seasons so far. Gromacki is a two time national champion at Amherst— compiling an unheard of 313-24 record. Shibles’ career at Bowdoin has been stellar as well. Shibles has a 212-60 record at Bowdoin. Bowdoin has always put a good squad on the court, but Shibles has brought it to a new level. The Saturday game will provide a challenge for both teams, since they play another important conference game on Friday. I’m sure that strong coaches like Shibles and Gromacki will stress the importance of the Friday games. In so many sports there are instances in which the favored team loses to the underdog due to looking too far forward. The Pittsburgh Steelers provided an example to us this season of how a very good team can lose. The Bowdoin vs Amherst game will inevitably be close, so coaching will be the difference maker. Gromacki has obviously be there before, but Shibles doesn’t lack any experience either.
Player Comparison: Madeline Eck (Amherst) vs Kate Kerrigan (Bowdoin)
In sports, trying to play to the opponent’s weakness can be detrimental. Teams should always go with their strengths (aka my best against your best). I know teams love to exploit matchups, but at the end of the day, it’s your best player taking the final shot no matter who’s guarding him or her. Enter Madeline Eck ’20 and Kate Kerrigan ’18. I keep referencing Nina Davenport from Bates because she’s such an outstanding scorer, but Eck and Kerrigan are equally as vital to their team as Davenport is even though they don’t put up those insane numbers. Both Eck and Kerrigan put over ten points a game, but most importantly, they dominate areas besides scoring. Kerrigan has two Defensive Player of the Year awards under her belt already, and could add an overall POY trophy this year if she keeps this up. She averages nearly five assists per game, top
s in the league, and shoots almost 40% from three and 56% overall from the field. And Eck has raised her game in the big moments, averaging nearly 17 points per game in NESCAC play. She can be a dominant defender as well, averaging 1.2 steals per game. Coach Gromacki and Coach Shibles trust that their respective players will make the play with the ball in their hands. A stat that stands out to me is that both players rebound the ball very well for guards. The ability to play great defense, and finish the defensive play by snatching the rebound is crucial. This matchup of guards is one to look forward to.
Bowdoin hasn’t been in a close game yet, winning all of their games by at least ten points (by the way, an absolutely absurd stat.) However, this level of dominance could hurt them in playing against a really good team like Amherst. Like Bill Belichick says, ‘sixty minutes.’ Bowdoin needs to play a full game in order to beat Amherst. If Bowdoin wants to be the best, they have to beat the best. Amherst has proven that they’re the best, so it’s up to Bowdoin to dethrone them.
The game will be tight. It’s a very good defense matched up with an incredibly potent offense. I’m not sure if Bowdoin will be able to put up the points they normally do against a tough defense like Amherst. However, Bowdoin has been proving doubters wrong all year. I’m taking Bowdoin over Amherst this year because I believe it’s their year to make a serious bid at a national championship.
1). Non-League Games: I remember every high school baseball season we would play a few 4:45 non-league games against a teams that weren’t in our league, so they basically had nothing to lose. To this day I question why we would play these games; the 4:45 start time was later than most of our games were, and we would start pitchers who could barely touch seventy-five in order to save our best for the league games. I know coaches schedule these games for more competition, but the talent gap is normally large in either direction. Amherst defeated Lehman College on Saturday by a score of 79-26. Why schedule this game? For Amherst, the only gain is giving bench players some time against some sub par competition (I apologize for possibly offending any Lehman College alumni). However, Amherst’s starters are so good that the best competition for the bench players stems from scrimmages against starters in practice. It just seems like a complete waste of time to play a game that yielded a fifty-three point differential. I know there’s a need for non-league games, but there has to be a smaller talent gap in these contests because it doesn’t seem like anything’s being accomplished with such blowouts. Amherst versus Lehman is only one of the many examples of non-league demolitions this season.
2). League Competition: The impending arrival of NESCAC games brought excitement to me, and the entire sports community. I expected close games with juggernauts such Tufts, Bowdoin, and Amherst. I was wrong. The first weekend provided less than stellar competition. There was only one game with a five point or fewer score differential. Williams versus Wesleyan finished 69-64 in the Ephs’ favor. I have two confessions here: first, I wrote in power rankings last week that Williams wasn’t playing very well. To my credit, they weren’t. Like I wrote, when the going gets tough, Williams always pulls through; it’s inevitable. Williams’ bench dominated Wesleyan’s—outscoring them 20-6. Championship teams have great benches, and Williams has proven that they’re here for the long haul. My second confession is I thought once NESCAC games began, we’d see more nail-biters. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet, but hopefully we will this weekend (Game of the Week will appear later in the article).
3). Road Teams: The road teams during the kickoff weekend for NESCAC women’s basketball posted a stellar 2-8 record. The average fan might wonder why this is the case. It’s not like teams are playing against the Seahawks’ 12th man, or facing the diehard, rabid Tampa Bay Rays fan base (please note my sarcasm). But as any high school or college athlete understands that playing on the road affects his or her routine. The bus ride has an effect; the visitors’ locker room feels different; the playing condition inevitably is alien. The two road victors were Connecticut College over Williams and Tufts over Colby. The Tufts’ win shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Jumbos shot 45% to Colby’s 28%. Jac Knapp, who shot 100% from the field, set the tone capitalizing off of Mule turnovers. The squad scored twenty-two points from Colby turnovers. Conn’s victory over Williams is more of a shocker. I think Conn could be poised to make a playoff run with a conference record of 1-1, and should be in the mix for the long haul because of its mental toughness from winning in enemy territory.
1). Must-Wins This Early in the Season (Game of the Week): Williams at Tufts should be an intriguing matchup this weekend. Williams really has nothing to lose in this one. They’re traveling to face a favored Tufts team. I don’t think many people expect Williams to win especially on the road. Tufts, on the other hand, symbolically can’t afford to lose this game. Coming off a beat down at the hands of the Bowdoin Polar Bears, the Jumbos come into this weekend with a 1-1 conference record. What has to concern Tufts head coach Carla Berube is the lack of points scored in the paint. Bowdoin outscored Tufts 32-16 in the paint, which shows that Tufts needs to get better at driving to the basket, and converting high percentage shots. A loss this weekend— causing the Jumbos to move to 1-2 in the conference— would lengthen the gap between the second and third seed in the conference. Tufts plays Middlebury the following day, so the ‘Bos have a lot to prove going into this weekend.
2). Bowdoin’s Clutch Gene: Bowdoin dominated the entire second half against Tufts last weekend. The first half was close, but Bowdoin really pulled away in the second. I wrote last week that Bowdoin strives to break into the upper tier of the league with Tufts and Amherst. The second half of the game proved to me that Bowdoin has the clutch gene. I don’t know in years past if Bowdoin could’ve put Tufts away in the second half. Just mentally facing squads like Tufts and Amherst is daunting, but Bowdoin proved they can not only compete, but win at the highest level. They’re now the team that has the NBC Sunday Night Football time slot; they’re primetime. Bowdoin will visit Amherst on January 27th. Bowdoin’s insane eighty-six points per game is obviously an impressive stat (more points are generally better in basketball) but it also raises a red flag for me. Bowdoin is used to playing fast, so if Amherst slows the game down and controls the tempo, Bowdoin will have a lot of trouble adjusting. There’s a lot of time between now and the 27th, however, so we’ll see if Bowdoin and Amherst remain undefeated in the league.
After over ten non-conference games for the women of NESCAC basketball, the games that ‘count’ finally begin on Friday. I put count in parentheses because every game is important, but it is conference record determines playoff seeding— not overall record. Instead of traveling to unknown frontiers, teams will see familiar town signs such as Williamstown, Amherst, and Middletown. Obscure team mascots give way to ones we’ve become accustomed to: the Jumbos, Bobcats, and Panthers. Finally the alumni and non-winter athletes still enjoying winter break can boast to their friends how their school is better. Let’s take a look at the power rankings the day before conference play begins:
1). Amherst College (11-0)
Amherst comes into conference play with a perfect overall record. Only one of their eleven games was within a ten point score differential. The Momouths have simply dominated their opponents. One of the victories came over Little Three Rival Wesleyan in an absolute trouncing. Sharp Shooter Hannah Fox ‘20 has shown no signs of a sophomore slump. She has led her team in points and minutes thus far. Amherst’s strength in schedule hasn’t been great over these eleven games, but that shouldn’t take away from how good this team is. The squad opens up on its home floor against Trinity on Friday night. The strength of schedule definitely will pick up since the NESCAC is one of the strongest sports conferences in all of Division Three athletics. After Trinity, Amherst will play Wesleyan and Conn College. These games won’t be roll overs, but I expect Amherst to get to 3-0 in the league without too much trouble.
2). Tufts University (10-1)
Many Bowdoin Polar Bears fans won’t be too happy with Tufts landing a spot higher than their 11-0 Polar Bears. Tufts’ narrow loss to Albright College in a game right after Christmas doesn’t concern me in the slightest. I believe that Amherst and Tufts right now are still 1A and 1B. Every other game Tufts has blown out its opponent. I believe that Tufts has had a stronger schedule relative to Amherst and Bowdoin so far. With convincing wins against solid non-NESCAC teams, Tufts remains right there with Amherst. Jac Knapp ‘19 leads the charge for the Bo’s averaging just over ten points per game and an incredible thirty-three minutes per game on the floor.
3). Bowdoin Polar Bears (11-0)
People believed that NESCAC women’s basketball is a two team league with Amherst and Tufts dominating the entire conference. Well, enter Bowdoin. After a solid run in the playoffs last year, the Polar Bears are looking to over take those two other teams. The real positive news is that Bowdoin won’t have trouble with Bates or Colby with complete blowouts over the two rivals in December. The non-conference strength of schedule isn’t great beyond those two teams. I don’t think Bowdoin has been challenged yet. They open up Friday against Bates, which shouldn’t be a big deal, but they host Tufts on Saturday. That’s going to be a huge game. The teams will inevitably meet again come playoff time, but this early season match can possibly send the teams in two separate directions momentum wise. Kate Kerrigan ‘18 leads the team in scoring, but she only logs around twenty-two minutes per game. That’s a great stat for Bowdoin, who certainly wants to make a deep tournament run with fresh legs.
4). Middlebury College (9-2)
There is a significant drop off following the top three teams, but I still really like how Middlebury has played so far. They flew to the West Coast to face the Claremont schools in a tournament. The California schools, in my opinion, offer greater competition to NESCAC schools looking to gear up for the conference season. The Panthers lost a heartbreaker in the first game to Claremont-Mud-Scripps before ending the trip with an impressive win over Pomona-Pitzer. I think Middlebury is poised to secure the fourth seed when it’s all said and done. The Panthers open up against Conn College on Friday and Wesleyan on Saturday. I think that Wes and Middlebury are two middle of the pack teams in the ‘Cac, so that should be an interesting game to watch. Maya Davis ‘20 has come into her own this year average around ten points per game and logging just north of twenty-seven minutes per contest.
5). Wesleyan University (8-2)
My ability to watch Wes in person probably boosts their ranking a bit. They took a trip down to Nashville, and came away with a winning streak. Prior to the Nashville trip, they took Williams to overtime, and beat them. Wes is a scrappy team with hustle plays at both ends of the court leading to positive plays. Olivia Gorman ‘19 leads the team in scoring at around twelve points per game. She stands only 5’ 4”, but her determination to get to the cup negates her lack of physical dominance
6). Hamilton College (9-2)
Like I said earlier, it’s really a toss up for these middle of the conference teams. Teams four through nine can all compete and really win on any given night. Hamilton has played well so far, but the only reason why they’re below teams four and five is their schedule. They didn’t take a trip to compete against schools from other parts of the country, so I don’t think that upstate New York schools are as good as the California schools or some southern squads. Hamilton doesn’t face any of the top three teams for a little bit; expect Hamilton to win some games at the beginning, but like everyone else, the narrative will change once they run into the top three. Carly O’Hern ‘20 is a solid guard, and leads the team in scoring averaging over eleven a game.
7). Connecticut College (9-2)
Conn knocked off instate rival Trinity in early December. The Camels have used that as momentum, and have churned out a solid record so far. Again, the strength of schedule so far hasn’t been great–understandably so. The Camels play Middlebury and Williams on Friday and Saturday respectively to open up league play. I would be surprised if they come out of the weekend 2-0, but if they do, that would prove that they’re one of the better teams in this conference. Mairead Hynes ‘18 has been dominant scoring the ball (17 ppg), which is second in the league.
8). Trinity College (9-2)
It’s hard to judge teams when they’re playing such different opponents. Similar to Hamilton, the only knock on Trinity is its strength of schedule so far. I think all the teams above them have played tougher opponents. The Bantams are still 9-2, but the arrival of league games will be eye opening for everyone. Trinity is led by Courtney Erickson ‘19, who averages a very impressive fourteen points per game
9). Williams College (8-4)
Williams’ four losses have raised some eyebrows. One would think that those four losses would come as a result of some strong non-league opponents. However, losses to Rochester and Depauw aren’t going to cut it in this league. What happens when Amherst and Tufts come in? Williams can’t embarrass themselves. However, Williams is Williams and it’s hard to imagine that they won’t find a way to win. Senior Kristin Fechtelkotter leads the team in scoring (13.3 PPG). The Ephs open against Wesleyan tomorrow and Conn on Saturday. Where do they travel the following week? Medford to face Tufts. That should be interesting.
10). Colby College (5-4)
It’s unfortunate for Colby and Bates that Bowdoin is their instate neighbor. 5-4 is a solid league record, but for non-league play, it’s not great. The same schools other NESCAC teams have blown out actually beat Colby or came close to beating them. It’s going to be a long season for the Mules, but at least they know they’ll have Bates below them. I feel like Colby is destined for the ten spot because they’re not nearly as good as the teams above them, but they’re certainly better than Bates. Haley Driscoll ‘18 leads the team in scoring, and is maybe the best center in a perimeter-dominated league.
11). Bates College (5-7)
As athletes, we’ve all been on bad teams. There’s nothing worse than going into a season knowing that your team is bad. I’ve been on plenty of bad teams in my life, which makes you truly understand how special the good teams you’ve been on are. There’s no circumventing this: Bates isn’t good. I don’t see them picking up very many league wins if any. It must be frustrating for Nina Davenport ‘18, who leads the league in scoring (20 ppg). She’s consistently one of the best scorers in the league, but Bates rarely backs her up with a W.
To quote Game of Thrones, ‘winter is here.’ NESCAC women’s basketball is already in full swing with an onslaught of non league games. While these games don’t go into the record books for NESCAC standings, they are nevertheless very important, so that each teams starts the season on the right foot. There have been some surprises thus far, and there are teams that have played like I predicted. Let’s take a look at my three hot takes going into winter break:
Bowdoin is Now a Top Dog
Tufts and Amherst dominated the spotlight in everyone’s preseason power rankings. Their incredible success last year deservingly gave them the top two spots of the standings in predictions for this season. However, something is going on in Brunswick, ME. The Bowdoin Polar Bears are 8-0. One of those wins was an thirty-four point trouncing over the Colby Mules. I don’t want to toot my own horn here, but I predicted Bowdoin to be very good; I didn’t predict them to be this good. The Polar Bears as a team led the NESCAC in all relevant offensive categories. While questions can be raised as to whether or not Bowdoin can actually beat Tufts and Amherst, there’s no question that the Polar Bears are a force to be reckoned with. They average an incredible eighty-four points per game as a team, with four players who average double figures in points: Taylor Choate ‘19, Kate Kerrigan ‘18, Lauren Petit ‘18, and Abby Kelly ‘19.
These four upperclassmen have set the tone for the team. While the competition they’ve played isn’t as stout as it will be when conference games kick in, boasting a perfect record is obviously a great sign for the squad. These four women have been there and done it before, so when times get inevitably tough down the stretch, look for them to push the team over the hump. The team will kick off league play on January 5th against Bates, and will play the Jumbos the following night. Rest assured, the polar bears will take one game at a time, but they have to be looking forward to Tufts. That’s their opportunity to show the world that Bowdoin has arrived.
Wesleyan Will be Better than Last Year (#RollCards #DirtyBirds)
It’s really tough to say how well a team will do after non-conference games. It’s clear that the NESCAC is one of the strongest conferences in the country. I watched Wes beat a team by sixty-six points last weekend. There’s not much secret to the success of NESCAC teams: the women just play at a quicker, higher, stronger (or Citius, Altius, Fortius just in case my high school Latin teachers are reading this) pace. Wesleyan was 1-9 last year in league play, but I think they’ll be better after watching them a bit this year. The team is always up on the bench–showing how well they support one another, and how badly they want to win. The team is led by Olivia Gorman ‘19, who averages around twelve points per game. The Cards look like they’ve been infused with new energy and talent. Emma Roush ‘21 leads all freshmen in scoring (7.0 PPG), and offers a tough, scrappy play style on both ends of the court. Good teams need players like these: Draymond Green of the Warriors and Marcus Smart for the Celtics contribute far more than the box score reveals. Defense translates to offense with these players, and it starts with their hustle. Roush is no different. Wesleyan got a wake up call, however, after they were smacked by Amherst. It didn’t count in the conference standings, but it shows that Wesleyan still isn’t at peak performance yet.
Nina Davenport is the Devin Booker of the NESCAC. MVP?
Nina Davenport ‘18 of the Bates Bobcats is putting up MVP like numbers. She averages around twenty-two points per game, and adds seven rebounds per contest too. Enter Devin Booker. Booker, a guard for the Phoenix Suns, puts up unbelievable numbers. He’s a lights out shooter, good slasher, and an all around incredible scorer. Davenport reminds me of Booker because she’s a good shooter, but she gets to the cup too; she scores in a variety of ways. Sounds all positive, right? Except for the fact that the Suns aren’t good. Neither is Bates. Bates is the only team in the NESCAC with a losing record thus far. That statistic would be fine if we were talking about games against Bowdoin, Amherst, and Tufts, but these are non-league opponents. Bates should be crushing them. As a result, it’s tough for me to justify saying that Davenport is the MVP. Yes, she puts up MVP numbers, but an MVP can’t be on a bad team in my opinion. Take a player like Maddie Bledsoe of Wesleyan. She’s a walking double-double averaging eleven rebounds and ten points per game. Granted Wesleyan won’t finish atop the league, but I think they’ll be the biggest turnaround team this year. Bates doesn’t look like they’ll turn it around. I’m not saying that Bledsoe will be the MVP, but that player should come from a team that’s playing well.
NESCAC women’s basketball kicked off its 2017-2018 campaign with a great set of games last weekend. In preparation for conference games that will start up in the next couple of weeks, each team played non-conference opponents. Here are my hot takes:
Hot Take 1: Amherst and Tufts will be really good
If you were reading my women’s soccer articles in the fall, you witnessed how many times I picked the underdog to defeat Williams, who is now in the Final Four. Each time I picked the opponent, Williams proved me wrong. I feel like Amherst and Tufts are the basketball versions of Williams. They’ve both ended up at the top of the league many of the previous seasons. They’re similar to the Spurs and Patriots: they’re consistently very good without much flash. Amherst has lost Ali Doswell ‘17, who was nominated for the DIII player of the year for the 2016-2017 season, and was an All-American. Doswell’s 13.2 PPG and stellar three-point percentage will be missed. Amherst, per usual, will utilize the ‘next person up’ mentality. Don’t get me wrong, Doswell’s loss will be felt, but with two convincing non league wins, I think Amherst will enter league play with the assumption that the squad can go all the way again this year. Tufts, on the other hand, is returning Melissa Baptista ‘18. Similar to Doswell, Baptista started every game for the ‘Bos. She comes off a season where she averaged around thirteen points per game, an All-American selection, and was a threat everywhere on the court. Tufts is already 2-0 on the young season, and I would expect Amherst and Tufts to be at the top when it’s all said and done.
Hot Take 2: It’s going to be a long winter in Lewiston
The Bates Bobcats dropped its opening two non league games last weekend. Everyone has a different mentality when it comes to these games. Obviously, the NESCAC playoffs are determined by a team’s NESCAC record. Every competitor, however, wants to win each game he or she plays in. Therefore, Bates’ two opening losses should raise major red flags. The NESCAC is one of the strongest conferences in the country for DIII in all sports. Losing to non-NESCAC teams isn’t a good statistic. It won’t get any easier for Bates down the road with games against Maine NESCAC rivals on the horizon. Defense for Bates was the major inhibiting factor last year keeping the team from a successful seasons. Giving up eighty-five points to Smith on Sunday isn’t a good sign that they’ve made significant improvements on the defensive side of the game. If Smith puts up that many points, imagine what will happen when Amherst, Tufts, or Bowdoin comes to town. It’s early in the season, but Bates needs to turn it around soon. Nina Davenport ‘18 is one of the best shooters in the conference. She will be one of the difference makers for Bates this season. If she sets the example of focusing on defense just as much as (or more than) offense, the hot take could be wrong.
Hot Take 3: Contrary to popular belief, defense still wins championships
The Golden State Warriors have made people believe that the way to win championships and create the ultimate basketball franchise is through quick transitions threes. Daryl Morey, the GM for the Houston Rockets, was the first man in the NBA to use the ‘Moneyball’ approach in basketball. If you watch a Rockets game, you will observe that there are no midrange jump shots, but only dunks/layups and threes (i.e. Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan wouldn’t be a system fit). In the era of offense in the NBA, the score of last year’s NCAA women’s basketball championship was 52-29 Amherst over Tufts. The top two scoring and three point percentage leaders from last season weren’t from Tufts or Amherst. If you want to beat Tufts or Amherst, you have to match their defensive mentality and efficiency. Bates, Colby, and all the other teams who were below .500 last year can put the ball in the basket. However, they couldn’t play the defense that those two outstanding teams could. I think all the teams that will post a record above .500 this year will be great defensive teams that value defense more than flashy offense.
Losing Patrick Stewart is a huge blow to a team that didn’t find any NESCAC success in 2017. Also gone are Joe Connelly and Max Steiner who started and saw significant time last year. That leaves the rebuilding Mules with G Ethan Schlager ’19, F Sean Gilmore ’20, and a host of players looking to crack the starting lineup. Potential starters are newcomers G Wallace Tucker ’21 and G Matt Hanna ’21, the 2017 sixth man G Tyler Williams ’20, F Steven Daley ’19, G Alex Dorian ’20, and G Sam Jefferson ’20. The positive takeaways from last year include a much higher ceiling for 2018, a host of experience for the Mules’ young players, and plenty of competition in the preseason for spots up for grabs. Coach Strahorn emphasized that while the Mules lack a big rebounding presence in their front court (Jefferson and Daley both out-rebounded the 6’7” Gilmore), but will attempt to make up for it with their pace of play. The Mules play with a smaller, guard-heavy lineup and don’t have a true center, but this allows for a fast game speed. There should be a collective rebounding effort from the guards with a nose for the ball and the few with more size, although they will need to improve in the paint to make a noticeable transition out of NESCAC obscurity. Coach Strahorn is also excited about first year players Hanna and Tucker who are dynamic players that can force penetration on offense, pushing opponent defenses to collapse and rotate. At this point in the year with a developing program, Coach Stahorn said that up to 14 players have the ability to carve out a role this season. The season’s just around the corner, and the Mules need somebody to step up with Stewart no longer in the picture.
The sophomore guard will play a critical role in the Mules’ 2017-2018 campaign. As a freshman last year, Schlager logged an impressive 22.7 Min/G. Schlager’s role this year will grow even larger with the loss of G Joe Connelly. The sophomore guard dished out 2.3 assists per game last year, and that statistic will have to go up even further if the Mules want to improve their offense from a season ago. Easier said than do, however, with the loss of F Patrick Stewart. Stewart’s finishing ability and offensive prowess led him to be the best Mule scorer by far. He will likely be one of the leading assist men for the Mules this year. The Choate alum showed he could put the ball in the basket, but he needs to improve his field goal percentage if the Mules seriously want to content. His 38.1 FG % from the field last year needs to improve to around 45%-50% if he wants to be depended upon as an efficient scorer. He did show decent range with a 39.8% three point percentage. With Connelly out of the picture, Schlager’s effectiveness as a guard who facilitates and scores at an efficient clip is essential to Colby’s success.
Sam Jefferson ‘20 (24.1 MPG, 7.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.6 APG)
Jefferson, a Newton, Massachusetts native, played in all twenty-four games for the Mules last season. He averaged about twenty-four minutes per game, which shows his dependency. The 6’ 4” two guard snagged four rebounds per game and posted nine points per game in NESCAC play. With the loss of Stewart, the main offensive weapon in Colby’s arsenal, Jefferson needs to step up his offensive game. Similar to Schlager, his field goal percentage dipped below 40% last year. Without Stewart, more defensive attention will be given to both Schlager and Jefferson. Therefore, it’s imperative to the two guards to swing the ball wing to wing and toss passes down to the post to keep the defensive on its heels. More open looks will be generated by ball movement, and probably greater shooting efficiency will occur. If Colby wants to win, Jefferson will need to score the ball more efficiently, and generate more open looks, which will in turn bring up his assist numbers.
G Alex Dorion ‘20 (16.1 MPG, 4.2 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 1.2 APG)
Dorion shot a lot of threes last year. To have the audacity to shoot that many threes as a freshman is something to tip your cap to. However, shooting in the low 30%’s for three isn’t necessarily great. Adding to that, shooting overall in the 30%’s doesn’t make me want to pick him as the man Colby depends on like they did for Stewart. Nevertheless, freshman year is over. NESCAC basketball moves at a much faster rate than most high school leagues, so a year under the belt for Dorion is crucial. After an offseason of lifting and working on his shooting form, I think he can turn into a three point assassin. He has decent size for a guard, and he’s sneakily athletic. He gets into good position to get steals and draw charges. Again, do I think he’ll be the difference maker for the Mules? No. I do think that he’ll make a positive impact if he cracks the starting lineup, which I think he will. He doesn’t have the three point prowess of a J.J. Reddick or Kyle Korver, but I think he can be like a decent catch and shoot guy like Steve Novak.
F Sean Gilmore ‘20 (16.3 MPG, 7.7 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.7 APG)
Colby’s frontcourt is headlined by 6’ 7” Sean Gilmore, who looks to build off a successful freshman campaign. Gilmore provides rim protection for the Mules; he led the team in blocks last year with twenty-four. Even though he only averaged around sixteen minutes per game, I see him playing a larger role this year with Stewart having graduated. Obviously in this day in age of three point basketball, rebounds remain paramount with either generating second chance opportunities or preventing them. As the rim protector of the team, Gilmore’s 2.8 rebounds per game will have to drastically improve from last year. I know he played a lesser role last season, but as someone who’s one of the bigger guys on the court, he has to use his footwork to get position on those rebounds. In the 2016 NBA Finals, Tristan Thompson was one of the major reasons why Cleveland won due to his size, rim protection, and rebounding ability. Gilmore has two of those attributes, and I’m sure a year in the league has only enhanced his anticipation skills, footwork, and box out ability.
F Steven Daley ‘19 (15.6 MPG, 4.9 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 0.8 APG)
With limited depth in the front court, Daley’s transition from underclassmen to upperclassmen will be put to the test the season. The 6’ 4” Daley reminds me of a player similar to Draymond Green. An undersized four who’s athletic, can shoot, and tough inside seems like the common trend in basketball nowadays. Daly is no different. A football and basketball player at Roxbury Latin, Daley can bang with the big boys in the paint, but can also defend a smaller guard on a switch out on the perimeter. The numbers from last year don’t jump out at you, but I think that’s Colby’s mantra anyways. There’s no one player, with Stewart gone, who’s going to burn a defense. Each player has to make steady contributions to the offense, and Daley is no exception. What really stood out to me from last year is his field goal percentage. With the guards shooting relatively inefficiently, a 50.5% from the field lit up my eyes. I think the biggest takeaway from Daley and Gilmore is that they have to set the tone for the team. Both these guys have to be a physical force down in the paint because I don’t have much faith in the guards’ ability to compensate for Connelly and Stewart’s departure.
Key Player: G Ethan Schlager ‘20
The common theme in the article is how to make up for the offense that Patrick Stewart gave to the Mules. The man averaged sixteen points per game, while the next guy didn’t even come close to that. Further, the loss of another offensive threat in the form of Joe Connelly hurts the Mules’ offense even more. This is where Ethan Schlager comes in. I think that he has to take the roles of both Connelly and Stewart combined if the Mules want to be successful. If that’s the case, all his numbers have to go up. And I mean every important offensive statistic. For one thing, he has to be a better facilitator. Without as many scorers as last year, it’s imperative for him to use his basketball IQ to get his teammates clean, open looks. Next, his field goal percentage needs to climb. This improvement not only comes in the form of better shots, but having confidence. With Stewart and Connelly gone, Schlager needs to think of himself as the man. He has to be the one who carries the team. If that field goal percentage rises above 45%, I believe his points will climb as well. I’m not saying he has to be a walking double double every night, but he needs to be awful close for Colby to make a serious improvement from last year.
There’s isn’t much to say about last season for the Mules. With only one conference win, there isn’t anywhere to go but up. The Mules have to keep that in mind all season. With teams like Williams, Middlebury, Amherst, and Wesleyan in the league, Colby needs to take each game one at a time. Looking at all those big names can be daunting, but understanding that any improvement is beneficial is a necessity. Also, understanding the team’s state right now is imperative. Colby only graduated two seniors last year. The projected starting lineup is made up of all underclassmen with the exception of Daley. Colby will remain relatively young for the foreseeable future. As much as I’ve grown to disdain this phrase because of its repetition, I’ll invoke it now because I think it’s entirely applicable: “Trust the Process.” Like the Sixers, it’s hard for me to say that Colby’s going good this year. Every team should have confidence in themselves, but as an impartial writer, I’m not going to sit here and say that Colby will miraculously be one of the best teams in such a competitive conference. Connelly and Stewart’s departures definitely don’t help the Mules either. There are some glimmers of hope, however, especially in Colby’s backcourt. For a team that ranked the worst in the league in points last year, the team astonishingly ranked second in assists. Keep the ball moving; shots will eventually fall. The young guards shouldn’t be shaken with their poor shooting from last year. If they stick with it, the shots will fall if they trust all the work they’ve put in in the offseason. In conclusion, don’t look for the Mules to wow you with improvement, but I think they can pick up a few more wins this year in order to escape the bottom of the league.
Sunday afternoon’s Williams versus Tufts game was one for the ages. The favored Williams College Ephs came into the game against Tufts with pure confidence after a 3-0 trouncing of the Jumbos in October. The game, however, did not start out in the Ephs’ favor. The key to the game for Williams was to establish an early lead, and rely on their stellar defense that carried them all year.
Nature, on the other hand, had a different idea. High winds blew both teams off their game, but it seems like the conditions affected Williams more. Coaches will always tell their players when they’re making excuses about the weather that both teams are playing in the same conditions. The team that best adapts to the unfortunate conditions is normally the one that capitalizes. Tufts was that team. At the very beginning of the second half, it was the Jumbos who tallied the first goal. Alessandra Sadler’s ‘18 goal put Tufts in the driver’s seat early in the second half. The minutes that followed stunned me: the Ephs looked like a deer caught in the headlights. They’re so used to playing with a lead that the 1-0 deficit made them reminisce about the collapse against Trinity last year in the playoffs.
Nevertheless, in any time of distress, you will turn to people whom you depend on. Natasha Albaneze ‘18 took control of the game, and kept the ball from the Eph’s defensive side of the field. This action allowed the Ephs to put the peddle to the metal, and register many shots on goal on the Jumbo keeper Emily Bowers ‘19. One of the fundamental principles of soccer is that shots on goal is one of the most important aspects of the game. In football, a team that goes 0-2 in the redzone is deemed a team that can’t execute in the clutch. In soccer, the shots on goal wear down a keeper and a defense–even if they don’t initially go in. It didn’t seem early on that the shots were wearing down Bowers at all. Finally, Natalie Turner-Wyatt ‘19 evened the game near the end of the second half off a Bowers’ rebound. Again, this goal was a product of shots on net. Bowers’ rebound control was stellar all game, but there’re some shots that a keeper has to make a desperation save on. Turner-Wyatt controlled the rebound, and potted a goal to tie the game up.
With only nine minutes left in regulation time, the Jumbos were on their heels. Out of the nine minutes left, at least seventy-five percent of them were in the Jumbos’ defensive side of the field. Of that seventy-five percent, there was a good minute that the ball danced around the goal line, only to be cleared by the defenders. Then, this one sequence of events was one of the greatest sports moments I’ve seen in my life. This moment goes up with Jordan’s crossover game winner against Utah, Julian Edelman’s catch against Atlanta in the Super Bowl, and Jeter’s flip to nail Giambi at the plate in the 2001 ALDS in Oakland.
The ball was being played in the box by the Ephs, and the Jumbo defenders seemed like they couldn’t clear it. Bowers made a save on an Eph shot, but gave up a juicy rebound. Bowers and the majority of the Jumbo defenders were cut off the left of my computer screen, while the ball trickled to a Albaneze with a wide open cage. She planted her left foot, swung her hips, and the inside of her right foot crushed the soccer ball and the Ephs into what seemed like a NESCAC championship and an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. Like Sinon climbing out of the Trojan horse, Bowers magically reappeared on my computer screen to make the save of the year with her outstretched left arm. Regulation came to a close, and overtime started with Williams still holding the momentum. Alison Lu ‘20 received a pass from Albaneze only four minutes into the overtime period and calmly chipped in a goal past Bowers to crown the Ephs NESCAC champions. An anticlimactic ending to a fantastic game.
I would personally like to thank all the women playing soccer in the NESCAC this year. Without them, there would be no game. They’ve proved that any team can win on any given day. Congratulations to the Ephs (ugh from a Wesleyan perspective). They truly deserve the title as league champions. Good luck Williams in the DIII tournament, and to any other NESCAC team that gets a bid! Again, thank you for such an incredible season, and I can’t wait for the 2018 campaign.
Last weekend’s quarterfinal matchups produced some shockers. High seeded teams such as Conn College and Middlebury fell. Amherst and Hamilton shocked the NESCAC world by coming into the playoffs as low seeds, and pulling off those upsets. And in less shocking news, Tufts and Williams continued their dominance. All but one game had a 1-0 score. This semifinal weekend will be just as exciting as the quarter final weekend with dominant teams playing the underdogs. As we saw last weekend, never count any team out. Here is a preview of the semifinal matchups:
#7 Amherst vs #1 Williams (Williamstown, MA, 11:00 AM)
As fate would have it, Amherst and Williams will meet in the playoffs. Similar to Yankees/Red Sox, Lakers/Celtics, Alabama/Auburn rivalries, the Amherst and Williams rivalry is one of the most storied rivalries not only in college sports, but in sports altogether. In a late September game, Williams narrowly defeated Amherst by a 3-2 margin. November soccer, however, is a lot different than September soccer. These are two different teams from the ones that met in September.
Williams kept rolling with an almost perfect record–albeit with a loss to Middlebury. One major boost for Williams is Aspen Pierson ‘21. Pierson is coming off offseason hip surgery that has limited her playing time. She made her Eph debut in an October game against Wesleyan, and has steadily been logging increasing minutes. She’s a dynamic playmaker with great field vision. Her anticipation and soccer IQ only adds to Williams’ already potent arsenal.
Amherst also is a much improved team since that September game. I’ll admit, I wrote them off in the mid season power rankings because of their lack of defensive discipline even though they compiled impressive offensive statistics. It looks like the team has completely righted that ship. Amherst knocked off the second seeded Conn College Camels in a cinderella 1-0 win. I don’t think Amherst had the discipline earlier in the year to win a 1-0 game against a very strong team like the Camels. This win, nevertheless, shows the improvement Amherst has made. Rubii Tamen ‘19 scored the lone Amherst goal. Tamen has been one of the best offensive players for Amherst, and will be looked upon if the team wants to pull off the upset. There’s no doubt Williams is the more talented team. Williams and Amherst matchups, however, are almost always a coin flip. However, I believe that it is Williams’ year:
Prediction: Williams 2-1
#6 Hamilton vs #4 Tufts (Williamstown, MA, 1:30 PM)
The Hamilton Continentals’ road to the finals has not been easy. First, they had to defeat a team [Middlebury] that accomplished something no other team in the country could do: beat Williams. Middlebury’s loss to Hamilton was truly a shocker. Emily Dumont ‘18 stood on her head in net all day–making a few desperation saves to keep Hamilton in the game. Maddie Dale ‘20 scored her first goal of the season at the most opportune time. Once Hamilton got the lead, the Continentals never looked back. I would say that everything had to go the way it did for Hamilton to secure the win. Dumont had to not let anything past her, and someone had to step up for the Continentals. Similar to Amherst, the Continentals are steamrolling into this semifinal matchup.
If I were Tufts, I wouldn’t want to play a hot team. In the NESCAC, however, there are no easy matchups–especially during the playoffs. Tufts’ road to the semifinals had to go through Trinity; the Bantams put up a real fight, but Tufts’ composure that they’ve showed all season carried them to a win. After that embarrassing loss to Williams in October, it seems like Tufts has turned the page, and gone back to what they do best: defense and Sophie Lloyd ’21. Lloyd has carried the Jumbos all season. Her lone goal was the difference maker in the game against Trinity. The freshman sensation’s sixteen points on the season is one of the major reasons of the team’s success. This game will be played after the Amherst/Williams game, so both teams will know which team they could possibly face in the finals. Like in all sports, Hamilton and Tufts need to remember to take one game at a time, and not worry about Williams/Amherst. I’m going to go with the upset here: