Maroons continue to rise in polls

By Kate Fratar

With four weeks to go in the regular season, some of the toughest league match-ups still lie ahead for women’s basketball. But if the early returns are any indication, the Maroons are shaping up as a force to be reckoned with in 2007 on both the league and national fronts.

Three weeks ago, the fourth-ranked Maroons (16–0, 5–0 UAA) slapped their first stamp on the record books with a 54–51 victory over then-24th-ranked Wash U (12–4, 4–1) in front of a playoff-atmosphere crowd at Ratner. Coming out on top of the nail-biter between archrivals extended the team’s winning streak at the time to 11–0, making it then the longest run in the program’s 36-year history. The win eclipsed last season’s 10–0 start and proved that this year’s squad’s has the ability to take things up a notch and continue the program’s rise from UAA’s second division.

“Our assistants have done a great job recruiting, and the kids who have been here before this team did a nice job and have kind of laid the foundation for this year’s team,” head coach Aaron Roussell said. “This year’s team just keeps stepping everything up.”

From there, the South Siders continued to get the better of their opponents, and after completing a home sweep last weekend, they have remained undefeated while pushing their win total up to a staggering 18, with five coming against the highly competitive UAA. Only one other team in DIII, sixth-ranked Howard Payne (18–0), can boast a perfect record.

“I am extremely happy with the way this season has turned out so far, and it is far more than I could have imagined for my first year here,” rookie forward Molly Hackney said. “We need to maintain this momentum that we have now and run with it.”

“We had high expectations coming into the season but we also knew that we were a pretty young team with a tough schedule,” fourth-year guard Korry Schwanz said. “We decided to focus on one game at a time, and I think that has paid off for us so far.”

While the Maroons kept their eyes on their next competition, they steadily rose in both the USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll and the rankings. Tuesday night marked another landmark for the squad when the newly released coaches’ poll put them in the number one slot with 7 of 10 first-place votes. It was the first time in program history that the Maroons ranked at the top of the division. Currently ranked fourth in the poll—which is considered more accurate because it surveys far more coaches and experts—the squad could become king of that mountain with another weekend sweep.

Making the squad’s rise in the division a bit sweeter and a bit more surprising, is the fact that the South Siders struck out for the season with a large freshman class and needed to replace three starters.

“I did feel that if our young kids came in and played as well as we thought they could that we would be a very good team,” Roussell said. “I just didn’t know at what point in the season that would happen. In all honesty it happened sooner than I felt it was going to or would have expected it to.”

Making the most of the team’s athleticism and combining it with intense conditioning early in the year has been a big part of the Maroons’ success story this season. The move unleashed already developed talents and got players used to pushing each other on the court every day.

“Our kids come focused and come ready to work very hard. Individual development this year has been better than it has been,” Roussell said. “Every kid has gotten a lot better since October, and that’s something that I hope we will continue to develop through March.”

“It’s a nice credit to our kids. They’ve worked very hard and played well,” Roussell said. “It’s really not something that we think about or spend any time talking about. Our focus is to go out there and play well Friday night, and on NYU, and winning our next game.”

Taking on a pair of nationally ranked programs at Ratner, the Maroons will indeed need to be focused on the task at hand if they wish to emerge unscathed. Whether they can win the next two games, against 15th-ranked NYU (15–1, 4–1) and 17th-ranked Brandeis (13–2, 3–2), is likely going to be determined by how well they can control the boards. With a 45.9 average, the ability to wipe the glass is a big part of Chicago’s game, and both the 15th-ranked Violets and 17th-ranked Brandeis are ready to challenge the squad on that front. NYU has posted 47.2 rebounds per game while the Judges have recorded a 40.3 mark.

The Maroons will also have their hands full trying to contain New York’s second-year Jessica McEntee. At 5’11, the towering forward has become a fearsome force in the UAA with 13.3 points per game and a .447 shooting percentage. It won’t get any easier Sunday when third-year guard Jamie Capra (16.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg) leads the Judges into Hyde Park.

Brimming with confidence but far from complacent, the South Siders know they have what it takes to meet what NYU and Brandeis has to offer.

“I think we’re getting better and better at working with each other in our offense,” Schwanz said. “ It’s impossible for defenses to take everything away and we’re learning to take what they’re giving us.”vt