For the women's basketball team, a top UAA ranking and a perfect conference record with a third of the league schedule passed aren't enough. They're intent on keeping their record unblemished and proving that they have what it takes to stay on top.
"Even though the team has had major accomplishments in these past weeks, our strides don't stop here," said first-year Nofi Mojidi, who helped seal both of last weekend's road wins with her quick, in-your-face defense. "We are going to show the conference that we deserve to be where we are, as a result of our dedication, determination, and desire to win."
The Maroons' performances in last weekend's 75-32 and 82-74 wins over Carnegie Mellon and Rochester put a preliminary exclamation point on the team's improvement this season, also catching the attention of d3hoops.com's team of the week feature. The Maroons tied the program's record for most consecutive wins by overcoming Rochester in overtime Sunday for their ninth straight.
After wreaking havoc at Carnegie January 21 with a 45-8 halftime lead, the team found itself in a dogfight against a Rochester squad that made the Final Four last year. The Maroons found themselves in an eight-point hole with 8:40 to go in the first half, but were pulled back into the game by third-year Susie Gutowski's play in the paint. In the second half, they opened up an eight-point lead of their own on the Yellowjackets, who fought back to tie the game on a last second free throw.
In overtime, six different Maroons combined for 15 points to finish off Rochester on their home court. Mojidi hit the go-ahead layup with 1:49 remaining left in the extra period, but the free-throw shooting of third-year guards Janae Winner and Rose Kulczycki was critical to holding back the home squad.
"We truly are the definition of a team. We have had different people step up in different games, and nobody truly cares who receives any of the credit. We have so many vital players on this team," interim head coach Aaron Roussell said.
Gutowski and second-year guard Korry Schwanz, known for their basketball sense as much as their offensive skill, have been a dominant duo this season. Gutowski averages 13.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game, continuing "to make teams pay for sucking in and doubling the post," according to Roussell. Schwanz leads the team in scoring, shooting 41 percent from behind the arc for a team-leading 15.0 points per game.
Third-year guard Janae Winner "continues to be an excellent floor general on offense," leading the team with 3.6 assists per game. Winner has also been a key part of Chicago's pressure defense, guarding the team's best player the last two games.
Perhaps the team's biggest surprise has been the contributions of two key first-years. Guard Nofi Mojidi's speed has created headaches all year for opposing point guards, as she leads the team with 2.8 steals per game. Despite only playing 22.4 minutes on average, Mojidi is the team's third-leading scorer (11.8 ppg). Forward Nicaya Rapier has shown her strength and anticipation with 6.9 rebounds in 17.9 minutes per game, and has drawn a high number of fouls after bringing down boards.
Chicago's sweep on its first UAA road trip of the year was a huge step forward for the team. While the team had won all three conference matchups at Ratner, there were questions as to whether they could win away from home. Having passed their first test with flying colors, the team hopes to repeat the experience this weekend. Chicago travels to NYU today and to Brandeis Sunday, the toughest teams the Maroons will face in UAA play. The team aims to show up with the same up-tempo energy that got them past the Yellowjackets, and play their best all-around games yet.
"We came out both games last weekend with a lot of energy. That's definitely something I want to see againboth in myself and in the team," Gutowski said. "We were ready to go right from the beginning, and that's really a key move in the mental part of basketball.
"If you scare a team in the first five minutes, you've got a good chance of winning that game. As long as we come out and play with heart, everything is going to be there for us."
Second-year guard Korry Schwanz echoed Gutowski's sentiment of starting aggressively.
"We have to play strong right from the tip because it's very hard to dig yourself out of a hole against both of these teams," Schwanz said. "And of course, we have to rebound like it's our job."
However, the team is stressing perspective with the record-tying win streak.
"We only have a few freshmen and we prevent them from getting a little ego by bringing back some old stories of losing to Wash U by 30 and stuff like that," Gutowski said. "Our success has given us confidence, but I don't think anyone's going around like, We're the best in the UAA.'"