Athenas Capture Glory, Win SCIAC Championship

The University of Redlands feeds the ball
down low to its big center, hoping for an easy bucket. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, center
Claire Donnelly CM ’17 has this zone on lockdown. Donnelly squares off against
the Bulldogs’ (12-14, 9-7 SCIAC) leading scorer Victoria Fakalata, stands her
ground and denies Fakalata access to the basket. This stifling post defense was
absolutely crucial to the Athenas’ success in their 56-49 victory over Redlands
in the SCIAC semifinal matchup.

“One of Coach’s biggest things is that their best player is not going to be the one
to beat us,” point guard Jai Dungca CM ’17 said. “We’re going to make them
prove that there’s someone else on their team who can beat us.”

And that’s
exactly what the Athenas did against Redlands. Throughout the game, the Bulldogs
consistently attempted to feed the ball to the low post, but, by executing smart
double teams and feeding off the robust defense of Donnelly and center Kailee
Severt CM ’18, CMS didn’t let Redlands play to its strengths. Instead, Redlands was forced to
shoot contested outside shots, mustering just a 31.7 percent field goal percentage.

“We’re
always focusing on defense and boxing [out],” Donnelly said. “Redlands had big
girls, so we wanted to make sure to box them out and not let them get offensive
boards or opportunities to shoot. Then, we always say: Let our offense run its course.”

On offense,
CMS came out firing as forward Kris Brackmann CM ’17 and guard Kyra Ray KGI both
nailed early three-pointers. Redlands was a feisty opponent, though, and the two
teams engaged in a tight duel. After
hitting two threes late in the first half, the Bulldogs pulled within two points of the Athenas to head into halftime a close 25-23.

After
rushing a little bit on offense in the first half, the Athenas came out strongly in the second half, using efficient ball movement to space the floor and
create open shots.

“Our game
is not to run up and down, but to run the set, swing the ball, get into the
post and kick it out,” Dungca said. “I don’t look for my shot first, but
that’s because I know I’m fast enough to blow by someone and force a second
defender to help, which will open up someone else on our team.”

Brackmann delivered a particularly strong performance in the second half,
consistently using her athleticism to slice through the Bulldog defense and get
to the rim. 17 of Brackmann’s game-high
25 points came in the second half to help deliver the victory to the Athenas.

In the
SCIAC championship game against California Lutheran University (19-8, 13-3
SCIAC) Feb. 28, CMS put together an all-around dominant performance to secure a
convincing 60-43 victory. Defense was once again key for the Athenas,
especially the admirable work of Ray, who faced off against Chelsea Jacoby, the
Regals’ best player, and never allowed her to get comfortable, only allowing
her to collect half the number of points she usually averages.

“Chelsea
Jacoby’s dad came up to Kyra after the game and said, ‘I already knew the game
was over in the first two possessions,’” Dungca said.

With the
SCIAC postseason championship the Athenas earned the conference’s automatic
bid to the NCAA Division III championship, where they will face off against the
University of Puget Sound (23-4) in the first round March 6 in Newberg, Ore., at 5
p.m. For reference, Puget Sound only beat Cal Lutheran by eight points when the two teams
played earlier in the year, which bodes well for the Athenas, who beat Cal Lu both times they faced them.

“We want to
move the ball and use the clock to our advantage because we score most often
when we have more passes,” Donnelly said. “We want to focus on
consistency, calming down and playing our game instead of rushing. We also
don’t want to play anyone else’s game instead of ours.”

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