Published: March 3, 2016
The women’s basketball team was crowned the 2016 Landmark Conference Champions Saturday after defeating Catholic University 78-57.
Saturday’s victory boosted the Lady Royal’s record to 27-0, the best the program has ever seen.
The Lady Royals came out strong from the beginning of the game, ending the first quarter with a nine point lead. From then on, it was smooth sailing for The Royals as they maintained the lead for the remainder of the game.
“The plan going into the championship game was to simply do what we’ve always been doing. We knew if we played simple and played our game, we would have success,” senior guard Jaclyn Gantz said.
Fellow senior guard Noelle Alicea, who scored a game-high 20 points, chimed in, saying adhering to the game plan would be imperative.
“We had a game plan from the last time we played them and it stayed the same this time. Do what we always do. No need to change things that aren’t broken,” Alicea said. “The only difference was that they were not letting (Alexis) Roman get the ball, that just meant the guards had to make some shots, and that’s what we all did.”
Alicea went on to say the way the team dealt with adversity and obstacles throughout the season made the victory that much sweeter.
“After losing three big players, having six incoming freshman and not having a coach to begin the preseason, things were not looking in our favor,” Alicea said. “I think because of this adversity we had to come together as a team even more. All we had was ourselves and since then we have had no problems buying into the game plan.”
As for accomplishing their goals, the Lady Royals have consistently proven that they can achieve anything they set their minds to. In order to keep this positive outlook, the team decided to write motivational phrases on their sneakers for Saturday’s game.
“The sayings were just little things to remember. Each game we are given a scout of the other team with many things to remember and that can sometimes make us forget the little things we need to do. Having them written on our shoes, each corresponding to the player, directly helps us to remember who we are and to not forget the simplicity of the game,” Alicea said. “We are best friends on and off the court. We hold each and every person accountable for their job that game. If everyone’s doing their job and we’re all sharing that ball, there’s nothing that can stop us.”
Junior forward and tournament MVP Sarah Payonk reflected on what this win means for the team.
“It’s such a great feeling to have won a conference championship and I’m so happy that our seniors were able to get a conference title in their last year. They worked so hard and they truly deserve it,” Payonk, who was also crowned the 2016 Landmark Conference Player of the Year, said.
First-year head coach Trevor Woodruff said he is incredibly happy and proud of the team’s successes.
“The feeling of winning a championship is pure joy. The reward as a coach is seeing the happiness on the faces of the players. They are tremendous people and have earned all the success they achieved. I feel very proud to be their coach,” Woodruff said.
First-year guard Bridgette Mann, who contributed 17 points to the victory, described what the team’s initial expectations for this season were.
“We set some preseason goals of what we wanted to accomplish and two of those were to go undefeated in the Long Center and to win a conference championship. So far we have accomplished one of them so we hope to be able to accomplish the other one as well,” Mann said.
Assistant coach Meghan Nowak agrees that the team bond has been an unstoppable force this season.
“The chemistry of the girls on the team is incredible. They have really grown close over the season and play for their teammates, rather than for themselves, and I think that’s why we’ve seen so much success,” Nowak said.
While the conference championship would be the picture-perfect ending to a perfect season, the Lady Royals are far from being done. Ranked third-best in the nation for Division III teams, the Lady Royals are on their way to the NCAA Tournament where they will host Worcester Polytechnic Institute Friday at 7 p.m. If the Lady Royals win Friday, they will advance to play the winner of Cabrini College versus Marymount University Saturday.
The Lady Royals’ impressive season has not gone unnoticed. Payonk was named Landmark Conference Player of the Year, Mann captured Landmark Rookie of the Year honors and Woodruff and his staff earned Coaching Staff of the Year honors.
Additionally, Roman was named First-Team All-Conference.
While the pressure of the NCAA tournament is high, the Lady Royals feel confident that if they continue to play the way they have played in the first 27 games, they will be successful.
The Lady Royals will host Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the first round of the NCAA Tournament 7 p.m. Friday in the John J. Long Center.
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