The College’s women’s basketball team was ousted from the NJAC Tournament last Tuesday, Feb. 25, in the semifinal round by William Paterson University, 81-70, all but officially ending the Lions’ season — and with it, the college basketball careers of four standout seniors: guards Tiffany DeTulio, Kelly Roddy and Colleen Duffy and forward Liz West.
Lions head coach Dawn Henderson and her players were understandably emotional following the game.
“I’m not crying because we lost,” Henderson said. “I’m crying because I’m not ready to say goodbye to them.”
The Lions fought hard, as expected, and never gave up. But on this night, they were no match for Pioneers guard Floriana Borova, who scored a career-high 48 points and simply dominated the game.
In the process, Borova exceed the Packer Hall record for most points by a women’s basketball player, set by Hillary Klimowicz with 35 points in 2009.
Earlier that day, Roddy and DeTulio received All-NJAC honors for the second year in a row, while Henderson was voted by her peers as the NJAC Coach of the Year for the seventh time in her 21-year career.
After Roddy and DeTulio both made the All-NJAC Second Team last season as juniors, Roddy earned a spot on the All-NJAC First Team and DeTulio was chosen as an Honorable Mention.
Henderson admitted she was far from thrilled to find out that William Paterson’s Borova had not been chosen as the NJAC Player of the Year.
“She considers herself the Player of the Year, and when she found she wasn’t (NJAC Player of the Year), I was very concerned,” Henderson said. “That being said, we certainly could have played better defense on her.”
And DeTulio, one of the many Lions forced to try to contain Borova, shared this sentiment.
“She’s a great player,” DeTulio said. “We knew (Borova) was going to hit baskets, but our goal was to keep her at her average, not let her double it.”
Dana Jeter, senior Pioneer and member of the All-NJAC Second Team, came out of the gates on fire, sinking her first seven shots and scoring 15 of her team’s first 21 points.
Jeter led the Pioneers in scoring at the end of the first half with 16, while Borova chipped in 14 on four-of-12 shooting. All 10 Lions who saw the floor in the first half hit at least one shot from the field.
In the second half it was the Borova show, though, as she poured in 34 points on 12-for-17 shooting from the field, equaling the Lions’ second half point total by herself and leading the Pioneers to victory.
“My teammates did everything right, — setting screens, making good passes and spreading the floor for me,” Borova said. “I just played my game. My threes were falling early, and I just got into a good rhythm scoring the ball. I found (Dana) Jeter for a few baskets in the beginning, but then they started to shut that down, and I just felt like I had to take over.”
Borova admitted the fact that she had been overlooked for NJAC Player of the Year honors had something to do with her career night against the College.
“It definitely gave me motivation, because I felt like I could have won it the last two years, but I didn’t,” Borova said. “But (Melissa) Tobie is a great player and very deserving as well.”
For Tobie, it was her second consecutive NJAC Player of the Year Award. A few days later, Tobie led Montclair State University past William Paterson 67-64 to a second consecutive NJAC title.
Despite the reality that the Lions will lose four of their key players this offseason, Henderson remains optimistic about next season, though it’s obvious she’s not quite ready to see the girls she’s grown so close to graduate just yet.
“They’re very special kids,” Henderson said. “I’m coach of the year because they make my job easy. They demand a lot of themselves and from each other, so I don’t have to make sure they’re doing the right things. They’re vocal, they’re talented and they’re smart. They’re all scholar athletes, and they’re good people. I’m going to miss them.”
Looking forward to next season, Henderson admitted she’s not quite sure who’s going to fill the leadership roles.
“I expect (junior guards) Kylie O’Donnell and Kelly Couglin to step up, and (junior guard) Angelica Esposito as well, but that’s probably the biggest thing: Who’s going to fill those shoes?” Henderson said. “Physically, we have kids who can play. The big mouths are graduating, and I say that lovingly, but we have a quiet group returning, so they’re going to have to step outside of their comfort zones.”
While the season didn’t end how the Lions had hoped, it was undoubtedly a terrific year that had so many memorable moments.
“We started playing together freshman year, and then Roddy and Duffy joined us sophomore year, and we’ve become a family,” West said.
This is a team that, despite being past its expiration date, will live on a long time.
“We’ve been together like every day of college,” DeTulio added. “Who knows what the rest of the year will bring for us, but I know we’ll be sisters forever.”