The Lady Royals have credited a large part of this season’s success to the incredible chemistry among the girls. Once again, they say their bond was the reason they came away with two victories including a comeback from a 13-point second half deficit to beat the Vassar College Brewers in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday.
“We did it together. It’s a legitimate team. Everyone supports each other. Everyone has the same mindset that we want to win the game no matter what,” junior guard Lindsay Fluehr said.
Fluehr had a key role in the team’s victory. It was her job to defend Vassar’s Cydni Matsuoka, who was the Liberty League Player of the Year and a WBCA Division III All-American in the 2012-13 season. Matsouka had 31 points Friday in Vassar’s victory over Williams College.
“[Strong] just kept telling me keep her under 15 [points] and she ended up with 15. He said keep her under 15 and we would win the game,” Fluehr said.
Strong’s statement could not have been more accurate. The Lady Royals won 72-71, a game that could have had a very different outcome if Matsouka had scored even one more point.
First-year forward, Alexix Roman led the Lady Royals with 49 points over the weekend; 30 of which came in the victory over Vassar.
“They were fronting so it was difficult to get position. That’s why the wall passes were really working,” Roman, who collected athlete of the week honors after her performance, said.
The Lady Royals found themselves trailing 60-47 with nine and a half minutes remaining in the game.
“I’m very proud of the girls not only the way they finished, but they didn’t panic,” Strong said. “This is a total team situation. It really is a pleasure to coach this group,” he added.
The Lady Royals went on to score the next 10 points straight making it a three-point game. They were interrupted by a Matsouka three-pointer but then scored eight more points and took a 65-63 lead with two minutes remaining. From that point on, the Brewers never let the Lady Royals get more than a two-point lead and tied the game four times.
“Every time there was a time out or a dead ball everyone was supporting each other. There was no panic even when we were down 13,” Fluehr said. “It was just a team effort,” she added.
Throughout the night the girls constantly found the support they needed in each other as they trailed.
“If we make a mistake [the upperclassmen] just get you back up and tell you to keep your head up,” Roman said.
“They have great leadership and support us a lot so when we’re on the court we don’t feel like freshman we feel like a team. They play a huge part in making us feel this way,” first-year forward Sarah Payonk added.
Payonk’s play was limited because of foul trouble but she still had 15 points, four rebounds, four assists, three rebounds and a block. Strong praised her play and said she was “a real game player” for the way she reacted to playing with four fouls.
With Friday’s 88-66 win over Bridgewater State and Saturday’s win over Vassar, the Lady Royals will advance to the Sweet 16. They will have a rematch with the Red Hawks of Montclair State University at FDU-Florham. The Red Hawks defeated a very different Lady Royals team 86-75 in their season opener Nov. 15.
The game will carry extra meaning for a certain Lady Royals senior. Katie Cunningham will take on the Red Hawks team that is coached by her sister Courtney Cunningham, a former basketball standout at Drew University. Cunningham did not play in the match earlier this season because of an injury but will most likely see time in the rematch.
If the Lady Royals win they will advance to the Elite Eight Saturday night against the winner of FDU-Florham and Baldwin-Wallace.
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