By AHMED MALIK
On Saturday, March 10, four months and 24 days into the season, the University of Mary Washington women’s basketball team did something they had not done all year long: lose a game.
In a clash of two undefeated teams, the No. 7 ranked Eagles fell 68-45 in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA tournament to No. 3 ranked George Fox University of Newberg, Ore. The Bruins defeated UMW by overmatching the Eagles Division III best defense, as George Fox shot 53.1 percent from field for the game.
The Eagles played from behind most of the game, as the Bruins were fueled by a hot start that helped them build an early lead that they never gave up. Yet the Eagles used a series of runs to keep the game competitive and gave themselves a chance at the victory into the second half. After George Fox jumped out to a 21-10 lead in the first half, the Eagles responded with an 8-2 run to trim the deficit to five points with just over four minutes to play in the opening half. But the Bruins answered by closing the half on an 8-3 run of their own to take 31-21 halftime lead.
The second half saw similar action, with both teams exhausting all resources on both ends of the floor. A 3-pointer by Eagles freshman guard Amanda Witmer cut the George Fox lead to single digits, 48-39, with just over nine minutes to play in the contest, but a strong finish by the Bruins squashed the Lady Eagles’ comeback bid.
Mary Washington was led by seniors Jenna McRae and Katie Wimmer, who both posted 12 points apiece, while George Fox was led by 6’5 center Hannah Munger’s 19 points and 10 rebounds.
While the score may not indicate it, the Eagles effort and intensity on the defensive end was present as it has been all season. Just 24 hours earlier, they used a valiant defensive effort to fuel a come from behind win versus Lebanon Valley College in the Sweet Sixteen round of the tournament. The Eagles shut down the Dutchmen in the final three minutes of the contest, scoring the last 10 points of the game to take a 46-41 victory and advance to the next round of the tournament. In that game, McRae led all scorers with 14 points while adding eight rebounds. Sophomore Aby Diop chipped in with eight points and four rebounds and fellow sophomore Sam Partonen added six points, nine rebounds, and three steals.
While the loss to George Fox prevented the Eagles (30-1) from advancing to their second Final Four appearance in six years, their accomplishments this past season cannot go unnoticed. The 30-1 record the women’s basketball team posted is the highest winning percentage in the program’s history. In addition, UMW had a defense that was ranked No. 1 in the country for all of Division III women’s basketball.
“I am absolutely proud of everything that we did this year, even the game on Saturday,” McRae said. “We set out on a mission after our season ended last year and we literally accomplished everything we wanted to.”
When asked what aspects contributed to their success, she responded: “I think we were so successful because we always played together.”
Fellow senior Katie Wimmer held her head high, as her teammate did.
“This season has been the best way to go out as a senior,” Wimmer said. “We had our ups and downs, but in the end we went on an amazing run that no one can take away from us.”
In addition to McRae and Wimmer, the team will graduate seniors Claire Brooks and Rachel Martin. McRae and Wimmer both posted over 1,000 points during their careers donning the Eagles uniform, and they are only two of five players in school history to amass 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists and 100 steals in their careers.
George Fox (31-0) advanced to play Amherst in the Final Four round and the pair will square off in the national semifinal in Holland, Mich. tomorrow.