Published: March 10, 2016
The women’s basketball team has advanced to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament after defeating Worcester Polytechnic Institute on Friday and Marymount University Saturday.
These two victories enhanced the Lady Royals’ perfect record to 29-0.
Even with raised stakes of the NCAA Tournament, the Lady Royals kept their cool and played the games the way they always do.
“We wanted to set the intensity level from the tip-off, focus on defense and execute on offense,” sophomore guard Katie O’Reilly said.
O’Reilly went on to say playing in the Sweet 16 is an incredible honor for the Lady Royals.
“It is an unbelievable feeling to be playing in the Sweet 16. It is so exciting and rewarding to be a part of a team that works so hard for each other. We are one of 16 Division III teams left in the country playing this season, and I would not want to share this experience with anyone else,” O’Reilly said.
Junior forward Alexix Roman cited the team’s insistence to stick to basics as a reason why the team was successful.
“We stuck to our basics: good defense, play simple and play together. We know that all teams we face in the tournament are going to be good, tough and very physical. We just need to play hard and play simple,” Roman said.
Roman had the game high in Saturday’s 60-44 victory with 23 points. First-year guard Bridgette Mann had the game high on Friday’s 67-42 victory with 18 points.
The Lady Royals reflected on what it means for them to be so successful in the tournament, accrediting their success to the hard work they have continuously put in since the preseason.
“It feels amazing and magical to be in the Sweet 16. Seeing where we were in September and where we are now is truly amazing.
We’ve put in so much hard work and it’s just a great feeling. You play basketball to be able to play in the NCAA Tournament. The atmosphere at the games is truly incredible,” Roman said.
Roman, who has been a frenetic scorer for the Lady Royals, said the pressure defenses give her helps free up her teammates.
“I just try to see what else is open. If I get doubled I’ll look for Sarah (Payonk) diving or kick it out so we can avoid a turnover,” Roman said.
Because of the Royals’ outstanding record, the team has had home court advantage for the entirety of the Tournament thus far.
This has been an undeniable aid in the Lady Royals’ performance.
“Playing at home has been really great. The crowds and the student section have been incredible and it makes playing the games so much more exciting when everyone is really into it and when the majority of the fans there are for your school,” junior forward Denise Rizzo said.
Mann agreed, explaining that the home court advantage has given the Lady Royals the upper hand against their opponents thus far.
“We’ve had a great support group here from the students and to see so many people there to cheer us on and support us definitely gives us an extra edge over our competitors,” Mann said.
Mann has made numerous contributions as a first-year player, and Head Coach Trevor Woodruff said he ‘doesn’t even consider her a freshman’ at this point in the season.
The Royals still have a long road ahead of them, however, and will play against Christopher Newport University 7 p.m. Friday. The Christopher Newport Lady Captains defeated Muhlenberg College 65-42 in an upset victory Saturday.
“The competition is getting tougher and tougher with each new team that we have to play in the Tournament,” Rizzo said.
Senior guard Noelle Alicea added the senior members on the team are facing added nerves.
“As seniors, it would be the last game of our career, so it’s a lot different for us knowing that the day it ends it’s over forever,” Alicea said. Alicea and guard Jaclyn Gantz are the two seniors. “I think the juniors know that too and they’re going to play for us knowing that the next loss for us would be career-ending and they don’t want to see us go.”
The Royals are still confident in their abilities, and they feel that they can perform well even against tough opponents.
“It doesn’t feel like if we lose we’re done but that is the reality in this situation, but knowing that we have to play like every game is our last because it is,” junior forward Sarah Payonk said. “You can’t go into the game scared but we have to play the way we’ve played all season.”
The Lady Royals will be hoping the John J. Long Center will be packed during the team’s game on Friday.
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