After losing to Chapman University (21-6, 14-2 SCIAC) twice earlier in the year, the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women’s basketball team (24-3, 14-2 SCIAC) finally got just that by defeating the Panthers when it really mattered: in the SCIAC championship game on Saturday, March 1. With the championship, CMS earned the automatic bid from the SCIAC and headed to Greencastle, Ind., to participate in the NCAA Division III Championships, which, just like DI March Madness, consists of 64 teams and uses a single-elimination format.
In the SCIAC championship game, CMS enjoyed contributions from many players, with seven Athenas scoring at least five points. Center Chloe Dobbert CM ’14 led the way with 14, followed closely by guard Maddy Barnes SC ’14 with 12, and guards Kim Scamman CM ’15, Kyra Ray SC ’14, and Jai Dungca CM ’14, each with 11.
“Our offense is so strong because we have five players on the court who can score at any time,” Ray said. “We had a pretty solid team game, which works because they just can’t stop everyone; you can take two girls, maybe, but not everyone.”
As usual, the Athenas wasted no time jumping out to an early lead, roaring ahead by dominating the first five minutes and building a 10-point advantage after Scamman kicked off the game with an early three-pointer. Chapman, of course, refused to simply lie down, but despite the Panthers’ best efforts, they were not able to overcome CMS’ offensive onslaught. CMS maintained the lead throughout the entire game, earning a methodical and convincing win.
Coach Kristen Dowling has focused much of the team’s strategy on the battle over rebounds. Dobbert in particular provided a huge boost for the Athenas in this category, taking advantage of her height to pull down nine rebounds.
Forward Mara Falahee CM ’16 also swiped three steals, and Dungca doled out five assists to provide key assistance in the other non-scoring categories.
“Chapman is good because they really sink in and guard the drive, and that’s one of our strengths because that’s what our offense is for, but what that does is leave the three open, and we shot well,” Ray said. “We were looking for the kick out and executed it well.”
CMS shot especially well from beyond the three-point line, making seven of 14 shots. The team also hit 51.9 percent of its total jumpers.
As the CMS men’s team can testify after falling to California Lutheran University in their semifinal game, it can be hard to beat a team three times in a row, something the Athenas took advantage of, playing their best game yet against the Panthers.
“I think we were all rooting for Chapman because we wanted to beat them and we all had a little fire,” Ray said. “Our team was really flowing that game.”
The victory was CMS’ 24th of the season, a new school record, and earned the team its first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2004. The team finished in sixth place in the SCIAC last year.
Dowling, who is in her second year as coach, led a team of only 10 players last season. She bolstered the roster this year by recruiting nine new first-years.
“I think coach Kristen has done a really good job recruiting, and I think another reason the team has done so well is that we’re all just really good friends off the court,” Ray said. “We have 17 girls who all get along with no problems, and I think we owe that a lot to her recruiting style. She looks at more than just basketball skills; she looks for people who are going to be good teammates as well. She is also very upbeat and enthusiastic.”
With the SCIAC title already under their belt, the Athenas learned that Barnes and Scamman both made the SCIAC first team.
CMS will face tough competition in Indiana. The Athenas square off tonight, March 7, at 4:30 p.m. against DePauw University, the reigning national champion, in the opening round matchup. If the Athenas emerge victorious, they will move on to play the winner of the matchup between No. 21 Ohio Northern University and No. 22 Transylvania University on Saturday, March 8, at 4 p.m.