Coming off a season in which they captured their third consecutive SCIAC women’s basketball tournament championship and advanced to the second round of NCAAs, the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Athenas (4-2, 1-0 SCIAC) wanted to challenge themselves to open the 2016-17 basketball season.
“The first tournament that we played in St. Louis, those were two top-10 teams in the country,” head coach Kristen Dowling said. “That was the McWilliams Classic, which is actually the number one Division III tournament in the country on the women’s basketball side. We knew it was going to be great competition, knew it was going to be really hard to see those great teams early on. It’s good for us to play those teams.”
Even though CMS lost both games, the first 64-36 to No. 25 Chicago on Nov. 18th, and then 66-49 to No. 8 Washington University the next day in a much-improved performance, the Athenas left St. Louis having learned some invaluable lessons.
“[It] was a great experience. We learned what the highest level looks like and we also learned what we need to improve,” Dowling said. “We need to improve handling against pressure, we learned that we can do a better job rebounding, we learned that we can do a better job taking care of the ball.”
Dowling also emphasized the importance of playing games on consecutive days, something the Athenas have done two weekends in a row now, first at the McWilliams Classic and then on Thanksgiving weekend in the Wells Classic—held at Pomona-Pitzer—in which they dominated both of their games.
“We’re strong in every position. Any night, any position can do really well. Our post players played really good this weekend on Friday; our guard played really good on Saturday,” she said of their wins against Carleton College (1-3, 0-0 Conf.) and University of California, Santa Cruz (1-4, 0-0 Conf.) in the Wells Classic.
Dowling is optimistic about what the future holds for this team, given their success last season. Many of those players—13 of the squad’s 18—are returning from last season’s championship-winning team, providing this year’s group with a solid base of experience.
In their most recent game on November 30, the Athenas smashed the Sagehens 75-32, proving their readiness to start the conference season and hopefully end with a SCIAC Championship in their hands.
Dowling states, “Our goal is always to be the absolute best we can be and reach our potential. The expectation is that we have a great team culture and great chemistry … but we want to go day by day and not look too far forward.”