The women traveled to Holland, Mich., last month to play for the Div. III national championship. In their Final Four semifinal matchup, the women faced off against national No. 1 DePauw on March 15, who entered the game with a spotless 32-0 record. The game was tight from wire to wire, and the women just barely came up short, falling 59-56. Williams then met Amherst in the national third-place game on March 16 and emerged victorious 57-53 from a gritty defensive battle, a fittingly superb cap to the season and to the careers of the team’s six seniors.
Williams squared off against DePauw in the women’s first appearance at the NCAA Final Four. The Ephs jumped out to an early eight-point lead, but after co-captain Claire Baecher ’13 picked up her second foul and sat the rest of the period, the Tigers amped up their perimeter defense, bringing them within one at 28-27 by halftime.
The second period featured scrappy play and big shots, but the game remained neck-and-neck, with the Ephs resorting to fouling in the final 90 seconds. DePauw proved solid at the foul line, hitting five of eight to end Williams’ unprecedented postseason streak and claim a 59-56 victory in the semifinal.
The next day, the women took the court against rival Amherst in the consolation game for third place in the Div. III. tournament. The Jeffs jumped ahead early behind their leading scorer Marcia Voight, but the Ephs clawed their way back to 15-14 before conceding a slim 24-21 lead going into the half.
The game’s second period sent the Ephs out in style. Williams outscored Amherst 36-29 over the 20 minutes, getting a combined 19 points from Jennie Harding ’13 and co-captain Danny Rainer ’13, and snatched a two-point lead with six minutes to play that the women never relinquished. On Amherst’s final possession, Katie Litman ’16 stepped in to pick up a huge charge against the attacking Voight. Ellen Cook ’15 sank two from the line, and the women concluded their season with a 57-53 win over longtime rival Amherst.
“It was tremendous to be able to get the win over Amherst, especially the way we did it, being behind most of the game and coming back to win,” Head Coach Pat Manning said.
Baecher finished with an impressive collection of personal accolades this season, including Div. III All-American, First Team All-NESCAC and NESCAC Player of the Year. Baecher also holds the school record in career blocks with 260 and single-season blocks with 95, 11th in career points and 10th in career rebounds.
“We put it all together when it mattered most in the tournament,” Manning said. “What made it for us was being able to come home to the tremendous atmosphere in Chandler. Cutting down the nets is something all of us will never forget.”
Overall, the Ephs closed out the season 27-6, building on their own single-season wins record. Third place in the nation is the best ever finish in the program’s 39 years. The six seniors, Rainer, Harding, Baecher, Grace Rehnquist ’13, Jen Borderud ’13 and Stephanie Browne ’13, extended their career wins to a single-class record of 87. Manning has been nominated for National Coach of the Year.