Even though the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women’s basketball team lost its NCAA Championships first-round matchup against DePauw University 79-68, the team returned to Claremont on a triumphant note.
“We came away from Indiana still feeling good because that one loss didn’t define our season,” guard Maddy Barnes SC ’14 said. “We still had a great game, and we did what we had to do.”
The team earned the SCIAC’s lone NCAA bid after defeating Chapman University on March 1 in the SCIAC Championship game and headed to Greencastle, Ind., to face off against DePauw, the defending national champions, on Friday, March 7.
Although the team played well, DePauw—which has only lost one game in the last two years—simply proved too tough an opponent to overcome.
“The girls went out there and played their hearts out,” assistant coach Anthony Mason said. “The biggest thing the girls learned from that game was that they’re ready to play on that level. Overall, I thought they played amazing, and I was super proud of them.”
The Athenas were extremely competitive in the first half, staying within seven points of their opponents throughout. For the majority of the half, CMS never let DePauw extend its lead to more than two possessions. And with 15 seconds left in the half, Kris Brackmann CM ’17 secured a steal and fed it to Jai Dungca CM ’17, who put in a layup for the final possession and closed the gap to five points.
But for the first 10 minutes of the second half, DePauw started to pull away, and at one point extended its lead to 19 points.
“That first 10 minutes of the second half, we had a hard time scoring and getting stops, so that created a little bit of a lead for them,” head coach Kristen Dowling said. “If we play those first 10 minutes the way we’ve been playing, it’s a totally different game, but DePauw is a great team.”
The Athenas really started to battle back later in the half, scoring 39 points in the final nine minutes. CMS eventually cut the deficit to 11 points, but was never able to overcome DePauw’s strong start to the half and was forced to cede victory to the Tigers.
In her last career game as an Athena, Barnes, a senior leader for the team throughout the season, had a very strong game for CMS, leading the team with 19 points.
Barnes said that DePauw was “a really smart team with a really intricate offense, and everybody could score.”
The most important part of CMS’ strategy, according to Dowling, has been defense and rebounding.
“That’s all about heart,” she said. “Those are not about putting the ball in the basket, but rather more about effort, which is something we can control. Our defense is our best offense. If we can play defense and get rebounds, we can be in the game.”
Although DePauw proved to be a brutal matchup, Dowling noted the positive side of playing the defending national champions.
“We want to be the top of the top, so we have to play the top,” she said. “Not only was the tournament a great experience, but it was a steppingstone for where we want to be in the future.”
On the whole, team members saw the season as a success.
“We showed how teams from Southern California can actually compete on a national level, and next year, I think the team is going to win because they’ll have that experience of traveling,” Barnes said.
Dowling doesn’t see any major area in need of improvement for next year.
“We’re doing the right things,” she said. “We just have to consistently do them 100 percent of them time. We want to consistently box out the other player and consistently keep your player in front of you, instead of just 99 percent of the time.”
While Barnes, Chloe Dobbert CM ’14, Shelby Barthold CM ’14, Cameron Ruby CM ’14, and Sarah King CM ’14 are all moving on, the team will return with an extremely talented core group of players next season.
“I expect that our returners will work as hard as our seniors did and will improve that much,” Dowling said. “Look at our seniors, they all improved a lot over the summer.”
Looking back on her last season at CMS, Barnes said, “It was fun to be on that journey. We’ve always been working towards being SCIAC champions, and having that happen senior year was absolutely fantastic. Credit to our coach and all of our players; no one gave up.”