Women's Basketball | Record year leaves Tufts eager to improve
Published: Friday, March 15, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 15, 2013 13:03
To make a conclusion about the Tufts women’s basketball team’s 2013 season is a difficult endeavor.
In some ways, it was a disappointment. Tufts failed at two attempts to get over the Amherst hump, fell in the quarterfinals of the NESCAC Championships and failed to advance past the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year despite returning nearly the past year’s entire roster.
But in other ways, it was a program−defining success. The Jumbos were ranked in the top 25 from day one, put together the longest winning streak and the highest winning percentage in program history, earned a share of the regular season conference title for the first time ever, hosted the first weekend of the NCAA tournament for a second consecutive year and cruised to a spot in the Sweet 16, where a win was no longer hoped for, but expected.
As co−captain Kate Barnosky said, the fact that a season of this caliber could be seen as a disappointment speaks to how far this program, which had never made the NCAA tournament before the 2007−2008 season, has come in defining itself as truly elite.
Tufts entered the season with high expectations, after returning everyone except Tiffany Kornegay (LA’12) from last season’s Sweet 16 squad and earning the school’s second−highest preseason rank in the d3hoops.com poll. The Jumbos made it through their season−opening tournament without a loss for the first time in four years, but still didn’t look their best, beating the host Skidmore College 50−30 before sneaking by NESCAC rival Hamilton College, 46−38, in a defensive battle.
But any fears that this year’s squad would have the offensive troubles like those that have plagued the program before were alleviated when Tufts scored 70 points in three straight games and averaged a win margin over nearly 24 points across six games to improve to 8−0.
With one game to go before break, and the team moving up to No. 10 in the polls, the undefeated streak became harder and harder to ignore.
“We always said it was the elephant in the room,” sophomore point guard Kelsey Morehead said. “Nobody wanted to talk about it, especially with our superstitions.”
That final game came against Bridgewater State, who shot the lights out of the gym in the first half and went into the locker rooms with a six−point lead. But Tufts responded, going on an offensive spurt of its own and doing just enough to eke out a 67−66 win.
“Ending on a win and knowing we could pull out those tough games proved very helpful going forward,” Morehead said.
Tufts cruised to two more victories after break before opening their NESCAC season against Williams. The Jumbos wasted no time setting the tone, going on a 13−4 run to begin the game, and keeping the Ephs at arm’s length much of the way. They were still leading by 11 with two−and−a−half to go, but poor decision−making allowed Williams to go on a 7−0 run in one minute, and left Tufts remembering late game collapses of years past. Morehead put those fears to rest, executing a cut on an inbounds pass perfectly and putting away the game−sealing layup as the shot clock expired.
“It was awesome beating Williams because they’ve always been our rivals,” Barnosky said. “They were kind of like an Amherst team to us where we’d play tough games but couldn’t beat them, so doing so was great, and even a goal we had set.”
The following day, the Jumbos defeated Middlebury, 54−41, marking coach Carla Berube’s 200th win, and extending their winning streak to 13 games — the longest in program history. Sophomore Hannah Foley’s weekend, which included 13 points against Williams and 10 against Middlebury, earned her NESCAC Player of the Week honors.
“When we broke the longest streak in the history of our program, that is really when we took a step back and realized that this year is something special,” Barnosky said.
From there, a battle of the undefeated between Amherst and Tufts seemed inevitable. The Jumbos won each of their next nine games by double digits, improving to 8−0 in the NESCAC and 22−0 overall and climbing as high as No. 5 in the polls — the best mark in program history.
The Jumbos entered LeFrak Gymnasium looking to end an eight−game losing streak to the Lord Jeffs spanning six years. But, by that point in the season, Tufts had begun to show wear and tear. Morehead was suffering from concussion symptoms from the night before, while multiple players were under the weather. They hung close the entire way but could never quite get out in front, and a banked three−pointer by senior Marcia Voigt, as the shot clock expired in the closing minutes, sealed the win for Amherst.
“We knew we didn’t play our best against Amherst, and still only lost by six,” Morehead said. “I think that was another reminder of how good we are and how good we can be.”
Winter storm Nemo gave the Jumbos an extended break after the loss, but the extra time just seemed to allow the team’s health problems to proliferate. Junior Caitlin McClure hurt her ankle in practice, ending her season, while Barnosky sat out the beginning of the team’s regular season finale against Hamilton because of complications in her surgically−repaired leg. Morehead was still not cleared to play, and what should have been an easy Senior Night win turned into a scrappy 57−37 win that doesn’t reflect the Jumbos’ underwhelming of a performance.
“We were definitely run down, and I think we had some bad luck as well,” Barnosky said. “I don’t know what the chances were that a bunch of us were going to get sick or hurt in the same week.”
The win was enough to earn Tufts a 9−1 finish in NESCAC play, and a win by Williams over Amherst meant a three−way split of the conference title. The Jumbos earned the No. 1 seed in the NESCAC tournament on random drawing, giving them the chance to host the semifinals and finals if they could get through the quarterfinals.