Closing league play with two losses, the team worked diligently last week in practice in the week leading up to the game to perfect their skills: “We really focused on the defensive aspect of our game and worked to improve on little errors that we made in the previous two games,” said forward Katie Latham ’06.
The team benefited from a new defensive strategy. “We played a 2-3 zone, which enabled us to focus more on their inside players who had played very well against us earlier in the season,” said co-captain Kate Herlihy ’05.
The extra work made the difference. Wesleyan started off with an early 8-0 run and seemed destined for another easy win. “I think we were all a little nervous just because we knew that if we didn’t win, our season was over,” said Latham. “But mostly we were all just excited because we knew that we could beat this team and move onto the next round of playoffs, which the team hasn’t accomplished since any of us have been a part of it.”
However, Amherst did not let Wesleyan pull away; the Jeffs fought back to cause nine lead changes in the first stanza alone. Nonetheless, at intermission, the Cardinals held a 35-29 edge.
“Our major strategy was to really concentrate on defense, doing our best to contain the players that we knew made their team so good,” said Latham. With a tough defense led by star first-year forward Matia Kostakis, who grabbed 10 rebounds, four steals and two blocks, the Jeffs held the Cardinals to 33 percent shooting (8-24) in the second half. However, Wesleyan managed to hold the lead until with 5:07 left in the game when junior co-captain Krissy Morin hit a three-pointer to gain the advantage, 49-48. Kostakis extended the lead to 53-50 with four-straight points, only to watch the Cardinals come back to tie the game with a lucky three-point shot.
Desperate, Wesleyan put Morin on the foul line with 8.8 seconds left, where she hit both free throws to give Amherst the final 55-53 edge. Although they had several chances to come back, the Cardinals were shut down by the tough Jeff defense. Determined to play in next week’s game, the Jeffs were led by Morin with 15 points. Rookie forward Stephanie Reiff and sophomore guard Jenny Muller netted 11 and 10 points, respectively, while Kostakis added eight.
Saturday’s game against the Polar Bears has the team extremely pumped up. In the last matchup between the two NESCAC foes, Amherst nearly stole the win, losing a hard-fought game, 65-62. “We’re very confident that if we play our game, we can definitely beat this team,” says Latham. With a week of practices, the Jeffs will have time to perfect their game.
“We are going to concentrate on playing good defense and boxing out so that we can control the boards,” said Latham. “We have to be patient and composed in running our offense effectively. As a team, we’re taking it one game at a time.”
The women are in unfamiliar territory but are not intimidated. Buoyed by their earlier struggle against the top seed, the Jeffs are eyeing a victory over the Polar Bears that would catapult them into the NESCAC championship where they would compete for an automatic berth in the Div. III NCAA Tournament. “Our goal right now is definitely to make it to the [NESCAC] championship,” admitted Latham. First things first, however, as the team will make the trip to Brunswick, Me., on Saturday to face host Bowdoin at 2 p.m. before Bates and Williams College face off in the other semifinal game.