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  Athletics    
         
    Walking the Walk

By Alison Dietz, Sofia Pena, and Tiffinay Rutnik

Our basketball season was a long and uphill journey, but as a team, we faced each and every challenge with courage and unity.
Our story began this fall with preseason workouts. Twice a week, our day started at 6 a.m. at the Hart Center with speed and agility drills. We complemented those workouts with circuit training in the weight room and individual workouts in the gym. And last, but certainly not least, we played pick-up games on weekday afternoons to balance out our training. At times it was difficult to juggle basketball and school successfully but with mutual support and encouragement we were always able to stay focused on our goals. By the end of the preseason, the team was in top shape and ready to take on our demanding schedule.

With great anticipation, we began our season at the University of Connecticut in the middle of a blizzard. With approximately 9,000 fans in attendance, we lost the game by 11 points, but we felt good about our efforts because the Huskies came into the game ranked second in the country. Playing so well against a powerhouse like UConn was a great experience because it gave us the confidence we needed to attack the rest of our nonleague schedule. We played through November, December, and the beginning of January with big wins over scholarship teams like New Hampshire, Siena, Boston College, Northeastern, and Hartford. We nearly beat nationally-ranked Tulane and Massachusetts on their respective home courts, as well.

By mid-January, Patriot League games were finally starting. Our team was eager to play league games because of the heartbreaking loss to Lafayette in last year’s tournament semifinals. This year, more than ever before, we wanted to make a statement. We knew in our hearts that we were the best team in the League, and this year we wanted to prove it by winning the regular season title. We started our quest in convincing fashion with wins over Army, Colgate, Lehigh, Bucknell, Navy, and best of all, Lafayette (the team which had eliminated us from the Patriot League Tournament in 1997, after Holy Cross had gone 12-0 in regular season). Unfortunately, however, the sweet taste of victory lasted only a short time. Toward the tail end of the Patriot League season, both Bucknell and Lafayette shocked us with upsets. These losses placed us in second place and dangerously close to losing our dream of winning the Patriot League regular season championship.

At this juncture, our team did some soul-searching. Having hit a low point, we realized that this unforeseen disaster could either make or break our season. Would we stumble and fall in the face of adversity, or fight back like champions? As captains, we understood that it was our responsibility to pull the team together. We composed an open letter to our teammates, coaches, and staff restating our goals and, more importantly, sharing our own motivation. There was no way we were going to lose another Patriot League game.

Our regular season ended with a showdown at the Naval Academy. The winner would walk away with both the regular season title and home-court advantage for the upcoming Patriot League tournament. Like true champions, we pulled out one of the most exciting victories in Holy Cross women’s basketball history. It took an overtime to do it, but we won!

The regular season title was a wonderful achievement, but it was only one of our three goals for the season. The second, more coveted goal was the Patriot League tournament. We all knew winning the Patriot League Championships would secure us an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The tournament title was what we had worked so hard for all season long, and we were determined to win. Interestingly, the title game came down to another showdown between our team and Navy’s lady Mids, except that this time, the action took place on our home court, in front of a record Hart Center crowd. It was a close game, but in the end, we pulled away and secured the victory and trip to the "Big Dance."

Winning the Patriot League championships in our senior year was one of the greatest thrills of our lives. Bursting out of the back halls of the Hart Center into the gym to start warm-ups before a capacity crowd was truly an unforgettable experience. Everywhere we turned we saw purple and white, and fans on their feet cheering us on. With our families, the student body, and the faculty and administration of Holy Cross behind us, we defeated the Naval Academy and brought the championship trophy back to Mount St. James.

The best part of winning the championship game was the achievement of our third and final goal for the season - to become a true team. Every one of us had a hand in that victory. We knew that, without each other, it would have been impossible. As captains, we were incredibly proud of how our team bounced back from those two league losses. Not once did we give up, and as a result, we brought the championship trophy back to where it belongs.

 

(With a victory in the Patriot League tournament, Holy Cross earned a #14 seed in the NCAA tournament, the school’s highest seed since the tournament went to a 64-team field. The Crusaders fell to #3 seed Louisiana Tech in the first round; the Lady Techsters went on to place in the National Championship game against Tennessee.)

 

 

Alison Dietz, Coach Bill Gibbons, Sofia Pena, and Tiffinay Rutnik
Alison Dietz, Coach Bill Gibbons, Sofia Pena, and Tiffinay Rutnik

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