By NICK JACOBS
The fifth-ranked University of Mary Washington women’s basketball team made history over spring break, winning the Capital Athletic Conference Championship for the third time in four years and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Division III Tournament for the third straight year.
However, the road to the Sweet Sixteen took its toll on the team’s bench.
Junior Forward Ashton Mitchell left the game against Baruch College game early with what was later diagnosed as a partially torn ACL. Sophomore guard Ashton Reed also left the same game with a concussion.
Senior Guard Lisa Tracey has become sick in the recent week and has also been off the practice courts.
Newly named CAC Coach of the Year Deena Applebury is still confident.
“We are a little banged up right now,” she said “We have few kids who are day-to-day and are definitely questionable for Friday, two of which are key players. But I think this time of the year is do or die and I think we are ready to go, as ready as we can be. Hopefully we will go up and play on Friday and put out a good show.”
Junior Guard Katy Larson and junior guard Kaitie Clarkin are the team’s newest addition to the starting lineup. Both Larson and Clarkin have accumulated over 600 playing minutes this season.
“We have a deep bench,” Applebury added. “A lot of younger kids are stepping up and filling those starting positions and have been doing a great job at doing that.”
The Eagles began the CAC Tournament with a 23-2 regular season record and quickly ran over opponents Hood College, 84-34, in the quarterfinals, York College, 71-58, in the semifinals, and capped it out with a 90-59 win over Marymount University in the Championship game.
All-American senior center Liz Hickey claimed the all-time Division III blocked shot record, now holding it with 507 blocks. Marymount University alumnus Cori Carson previously held the record with 485 blocks. In addition, Hickey joined Mitchell on the All-CAC first team and was named one of 10 finalists for the Jostens award.
The Jostens award is given to the best player in NCAA Division III basketball by the Salem, Va. Rotary Club. Unfortunately, McMurray center Tarra Richardson won the award for 2008 and will be presented with it at the Final Four games March 20.
Hickey is pleased with the results of her senior year thus far.
“I’m really excited but I couldn’t do it without my team, especially without Ashton Mitchell,” Hickey said. “She takes a lot of pressure off me. Most teams don’t have the people that can guard both post players. We have an excellent team philosophy here and that has just allowed me to play well.”
The Eagles will face off against Tufts University Friday evening at 5:30 p.m. at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa. The winner of this match will go on to play the winner of the University of Rochester, Messiah College game on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Applebury is confident in her team’s ability.
“The game against Tufts is going to be a good match-up,” she said “I think that if we were at full strength I would probably sleep a little easier and be a little more comfortable with it. Nevertheless I think it is a good draw and hopefully we will be able to get out there and compete with them and keep it close.”
Tufts University, located in Massachusetts, is 25-3 for the season. The Eagles are now 28-2 for the season and the first-ranked team in the Atlantic region.
If Mary Washington wins the regional tournament they will advance to the familiar Final Four Tournament in Holland, Michigan March 21-22. The Eagles made their way to the Final Four last season when they beat New York University, 74-63, in the tournament’s contention match.
Hickey and her team are not ready to settle for another third-place win.
“During the game against The College of New Jersey we came together as a team,” she said “We have three players out and they do not want to end their season sitting on the bench, so we are going to try and give them a win to give them a week to get better and see if they will be able to play in the Final Four.”