No. 1 Mary Washington sends Lions to an early exit

The women’s basketball team exited the NCAA Division III tournament with a 79-41 loss to the No. 1-seeded University of Mary Washington on Friday in Fredericksburg, Va.

“We came in and knew we needed to play our very best game and catch them on an off game,” head coach Dawn Henderson said. “We didn’t play our game at all and they played very well. It’s a little disappointing.”

After opening the game with a 10-9 lead, Mary Washington, ranked No. 6 in the Division III Coaches Poll, used a 22-0 run spanning 10 minutes to open a 32-9 lead. The Eagles bench led the run, scoring 13 of the 22 points. The College went into the locker room down 40-20.

The second half proved to be more of the same, as each of Mary Washington’s 10 players scored at least four points. Junior forward Debbie Bruen, senior guard Jenn Olinger and sophomore guard Jessica Shifflet led the way with 12 points each, while sophomore center Liz Hickey added 10 points and 11 rebounds.

“They played like a team that won a game they were expecting to win,” Henderson said.

Senior co-captains guard Alexa Shields and forward Erin Frank led the Lions with 10 and eight points, respectively.

The College struggled on the offensive end, shooting under 28 percent from the field and committing 23 turnovers. The College also caught the Eagles at a bad time, who were coming off their only loss of the season.

“We were one of three teams in the tournament that had eight losses,” Henderson said. “It makes sense we’re playing the No. 1 seed.”

Mary Washington later defeated Muhlenberg College on Saturday to advance to the round of 16 and improve its season record to 29-1.

The loss marked the end of a rather successful season for the Lions. They upset conference-rival Richard Stockton College on the road in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) championship game to gain an automatic bid to the Division III tournament.

The College finished the season with an overall record of 19-9 and 13-5 in the NJAC. After starting the season 2-3, the Lions reeled off seven consecutive wins. Then, following another 2-3 slide in late January, the Lions won eight of their last nine games.

“I guess the way it played out we were very successful this year,” Henderson said. “At the beginning of the season, I had every expectation that we would win the conference, but with injuries throughout the year, that came into doubt. But we finished it out very well and ended up winning the conference.”

The team finished the season with the best scoring defense (52 points per game) and opponents’ field goal percentage (.335) in the NJAC.

Frank earned First Team All-Conference honors for the season and Shields secured Second Team honors.

For the seniors – guard Tiara Simpkins, forward Danica Miller, Frank and Shields – Friday’s loss marked the end of their careers at the College.

“They were a vital piece of our history and our last four years; they’re outstanding people and they’ll be good leaders,” Henderson said of the seniors. “They’re going to take what they’ve learned and contribute to the world. Winning and losing are great memories, but the measure of our success is the kind of people that are going to go out into the world and make a difference.”

Next season, the Lions will return starters junior guard/forward Megan Hueter and sophomore guard Sara Best, along with impact reserves like junior guards Margo Buchalski and Latissa Watson and junior forward Breanne Depken.

“Obviously Sara is someone we have high expectations for and we have every expectation that Megan Hueter will be a key contributor as well,” Henderson said.

Best tallied double-digit points in six consecutive games at the end of the season after moving into the starting lineup. Henderson also said Depken and Watson will likely move into next year’s starting lineup, with Watson taking over point-guard duties.

“Latissa showed she had the ability we always knew she had and played well the second half of the year,” Henderson said. “Our recruiting has gone very well and we have the pieces in place to compete for another championship next year,” Henderson said.

Like the College’s men’s team, graduation will leave some holes to fill. “When you graduate four players that have been so important to our program, you never really fill their shoes, but you have people already in the program that will follow the traditions set forth,” Henderson said. “But we’ll miss those four seniors very much.”