Seventeen game streak ends, team falls short of final four

An historic season came to an end Saturday night for the women’s basketball team as they lost to Salem State College in an Elite Eight match-up.

The Ephs battled with Salem State from the beginning, scoring first and keeping the game close with the help of senior Laura Brenneman’s long-range shooting. Tough defense and strong rebounding helped Williams remain within five, entering the half trailing 35-30.

The second half began as intensely as the first one ended and the Ephs fought to pull within one as Kathleen Higgins ’99 dropped in two free throws. Down 49-48 with ten minutes remaining it looked as though Williams was going to keep it close, but Salem State exploded and went on a 14-3 run behind the three-point shooting of Melissa Smock. With about two minutes remaining the Ephs began to foul in order to stop the clock and Salem State pulled further ahead by sinking most of their free throws.

In the end Salem State proved to be too much for Williams, as they ended a seventeen game Eph win streak with a 76-60 victory. Brenneman led the way for the Ephs with 21 points and an All-Tournament team selection. Higgins added 14 and Rebecca Brooks ’00 had another solid game with 11 points. Erin Duffy ’99 grabbed seven rebounds for Williams and was a defensive force with four blocks.

Friday night, Williams faced Rowan University. The Ephs opened with a strong inside game as they fed the ball to posts Duffy and Brooks. However, Rowan went up by one with about 11 minutes remaining in the first half. The lead would change hands many more times as skillful shooting from Williams brought them back and pushed them out to a 28-25 lead at halftime.

The Ephs began the second half much like the first, again feeding the ball down low to Brooks and Duffy as Williams pulled out to a seven point lead, forcing Rowan to call a timeout. With just under fifteen minutes remaining in the game Rowan fought back and pulled slightly ahead. The rest of the game was close; the two teams were always within four points of one another. Williams continued to use its inside game while Rowan relied on outside the shooting of Maleena Edwards.

The game was extremely physical with a combined 30 fouls between the two teams, but Williams overcame the intense play of Rowan to take the lead with three minutes remaining. Rowan simply would not quit as they pulled within one of the Ephs with 42 seconds left in the game.

Experience and ability sealed the win for the Ephs as Higgins, who was held to seven points, nailed one of the biggest threes of the season to pull Williams ahead by four with only 21 seconds left on the clock. The Ephs finished out the game true to form, never letting up as Liz Tilley ’01 sunk two free throws and Duffy blocked a shot to seal Williams’ 62-56 triumph.

The entire game was a true team effort from the Williams team, as four players scored in double digits and the bench made important contributions to the effort. The dominant inside duo of Brooks and Duffy each scored 12 points, while Duffy also had six rebounds and eight blocks. Tilley dropped in 11 and Brenneman ten while Sam Daigneault ’00 grabbed seven rebounds off of the bench.

It was quite a season for Williams: they finished 25-2 and went undefeated in NESCAC play and set two school records, most wins in a season with 25 and longest winning streak with 17 wins. These accomplishments as well as leading the Ephs to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament for the first time gave Coach Pat Manning both NESCAC and New England Women’s Basketball Association Coach of the Year awards.

Higgins, who earlier in the season broke the career scoring record, was recently named among the top forty players in Division III as a finalist for All-American recognition (winners will be decided after the completion of the season). She was also named NESCAC and New England Women’s Basketball Association’s Player of the Year, as well as being chosen for their First Team All-Star rosters. Brooks likewise was named to the first All-NESCAC team, and third team All-New England. Co Captain Duffy was named to All-NESCAC third team, and she is ranked among the top five players in Division III for blocked shots. Brenneman was named to NESCAC’s All-Defensive team and was selected to the NCAA All-Tournament team. All three seniors were selected to play in the New England Senior Classic.

Williams’ season was remarkable as they pushed forward through many close and intense games to achieve more than any other team before, garnering the title of best women’s basketball team in Williams history.