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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, June 21, 2024

Women’s basketball opens season 2–0 in first games since March 2020

In its first game action in nearly two years, Tufts women’s basketball opened up the 2021–22 season with two victories in the Tyler Tip-Off Tournament at Smith College this past weekend.

The Jumbos clinched a 69–59 victory over the Vassar College Brewers on Sunday. Sophomore forward Maggie Russell was a force on the boards, posting a dominant 27 points, 18 rebound double-double while shooting an ultra-efficient 10–14 from the field. Russell was named the New England Women's Basketball Association's first Player of the Week for the 2021–22 season following her performance in the first two games. Senior forward and co-captain Sofia Rosa was also unstoppable down low, dropping 22 points of her own while shooting an equally impressive 10–13 from the field.

The Jumbos opened their season the day before with a 73–53 victory over the Rowan University Profs. The Jumbos dominated the box score, with senior guard and co-captain Molly Ryan leading the team with a career high 33 points, shooting an efficient 11–17 from the field. Tufts out-rebounded Rowan 35–31; a whopping 17 of those rebounds came from Russell, earning a double-double by adding 11 points to the aforementioned 17 rebounds. 

Despite the comfortable margin of victory, there were moments throughout the game where it looked like the Jumbos might lose their lead. However, Tufts quickly answered back in response to mini-runs from Rowan.

Ryan emphasized the importance of keeping composure in high-pressure situations while knowing when to make adjustments on the court.

“​​We knew it was going to be frantic at moments as it was our first game back,” Ryan said. “I think collectively we all did a great job at recognizing when we needed to slow the pace down, collect ourselves, and communicate with one another.”

With the Jumbos leading nearly every statistical category in both games, Head Coach Jill Pace emphasized the importance of winning those statistical battles, colloquially known as games within the game.

“Our goal is to win every game, but then beyond that, we always set specific game goals just based on our opponent,” Pace said. “Teams that can do those little things and can be gritty and tough and dive on the floor after loose balls and win the 50-50 balls are going to be the teams that are successful and are successful in those little moments too.”

Tufts was dominant down low all weekend, holding both Rowan and Vassar to 20 and 24 points in the paint, respectively. Rosa praised the team-wide defensive effort that led to their dominance down low, as well as the Jumbos’ ability to force turnovers. 

“It’s definitely been a team effort on the defensive end,” Rosa said. “The guards have been doing a good job at getting deflections and making it a hard entry pass into the post which makes our jobs as posts easier.”

Saturday’s game against Rowan marked the first game for Tufts since March 7, 2020, when the team was  in the midst of an NCAA tournament run in Pace’s first year as head coach. Now in her second full year as the coach of the Jumbos, Pace expressed her excitement to be back on the sidelines coaching. 

“I've always been excited to coach basketball but a little bit more excited, a little bit more grateful during this time, especially coming back from COVID,” Pace said. 

Rosa also spoke to the benefit of returning from such a long hiatus with two wins.

“It was great to come away from this weekend with two wins, and we’re excited to learn from these games and continue to improve as a team,” Rosa said.

With a squad that has only six upperclassmen, the importance of leadership is going to be a focal point for the Jumbos all season. Ryan noted the importance of instilling confidence in the younger players.

“I think it’s important to lead by example,” Ryan said. “We can provide leadership and composure on the floor to help give the underclassmen confidence on the court.”

Rosa also had nothing but great things to say about the future of the program due to the underclassmen’s willingness to learn and become leaders themselves.

“We hope that we can teach our younger players what Tufts Women’s Basketball is all about so that they too can be leaders in the coming years,” Rosa said. “We’re really lucky to have such great underclassmen who are so eager to learn and contribute right away.”

The Jumbos travel to Maine for a matchup with the University of New England Nor’easters on Tuesday at 7 p.m. before their long-awaited return to Cousens Gymnasium on Saturday at 1 p.m. when they host the Brandeis University Judges.

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