Sunday afternoon, women’s basketball did what the team hadn’t managed to do in a college generation.
Four years. That’s before third-year Molly Hackney emerged as UAA Rookie of the Year, and before lone senior Alex Leach wore her first maroon and white jersey. Four years ago, Aaron Roussell was in his rookie season as Chicago’s head coach.
Four years ago, the Maroons beat the Rochester Yellowjackets in New York 82–74 in overtime, their last win at the Louis Alexander Palestra. Until Sunday.
“We have had some close games [there],” said Roussell of the past few seasons in Rochester. “But our focus was really on getting a win against a team ranked number one and getting back to the top of the UAA standings.”
If the Maroons (13–3, 4–1 UAA) were to snap their unlucky streak in Rochester, 2009 hardly seemed like the year. The Yellowjackets were undefeated with a record of 15–0, 4–0 heading into Sunday’s matchup, and the team had buzzed its way to the top of the d3hoops.com national rankings.
More than a little bit of superstition was waiting to take on Chicago at tipoff.
Guard Jessica Mastronardi opened Sunday’s game with a message to the visiting bench that was clear enough. The team’s leading scorer at 12.1 points per game, Mastronardi nailed a trey seven seconds into play to welcome the Maroons back to Rochester.
Mastronardi’s quick triple seemed to confirm what the numbers suggested, that the South Siders were overmatched for their latest trip to upstate New York. Then again, the squad had a few things in its favor.
A new round of voting had the Maroons back in the national rankings, standing at the 25th spot of the USA Today/ESPN NCAA D-III poll, and a 66–38 stomping of Carnegie Mellon (5–11, 0–5) at Pittsburgh Friday had them riding a three-game winning stretch.
“Even at practice on Saturday in Rochester, I just got the sense that our players were locked in and were going to do whatever it took to win the game on Sunday,” Roussell said.
There was also the emergence of second-year Karly Kasper. After receiving UAA Athlete of the Week honors last Tuesday, the forward was looking to build on the four points, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals she put on the board Friday at Carnegie.
“She is one of the hardest workers you will ever see, and so much of her success is due to her finding ways to get to rebounds and loose balls,” said Roussell of Kasper. “She always does the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet for us, so it is nice to see a kid like that get some overdue credit now that she is filling up the box score.”
Friday’s contest was just the warm-up to Sunday’s performance. Sinking 20 points, a game high and tying her career best, Kasper led Chicago to a 71–51 victory over Rochester.
Kasper hit her first basket two minutes into the opening half, knocking down a layup to bring the Maroons within one of the Yellowjackets at 5–4. Scoring would remain tight throughout the period, but Chicago stayed in front for most of it.
At the 4:06 mark, third-year point guard Jamie Stinson broke the 26–26 tie. She found an open lane as Rochester defenders moved to block Chicago’s shooters and finished at the basket with a key layup.
“It was a big play at the moment and really propelled our run to end the half,” Roussell said.
Between Stinson’s layup and the buzzer, the Maroons outscored their hosts 10–3 and held a seven point advantage of 36–29.
“We felt good being up seven at the break, but we talked about controlling the first few minutes of the second half because we knew they would try to make a run,” Roussell said.
Returning to the floor, Chicago increased its lead to as much as 15 points before the Yellowjackets narrowed the gap down to single digits. Fourth-year center Julie Marriott got her team within nine at 52–43 with 8:23 left to play on the afternoon.
With Mastronardi limited to four shots in the game, all coming in the first half, Rochester’s offense had lost a lot of its sting. Marriott stepped up and tallied 14 points for the hosts, but that was not enough to keep up with the pace that Kasper and the Maroons were pushing.
“We continue to play very well defensively,” Roussell said. “We are number one in the nation in defensive field goal percentage, and it has been key to limiting some of the explosive teams we have seen lately.”
Kasper collected 12 of her 20 points in the second stanza, finding net from beyond the arc in response to Marriott’s layup to give Chicago a double-digit lead the rest of the way. Even with Kasper lighting up the scoreboard, her teammates did plenty to nix chances of a Rochester comeback.
Coming off a strong night against the Tartans, Hackney collected seven rebounds, along with three blocks, three steals, and two assists against the Yellowjackets. Leach contributed 14 points, going 2–3 from three-point distance, and pulled down nine rebounds to go with a pair of steals and assists.
The Maroons will look to continue their UAA success when they travel to 13th-ranked Brandeis (12–3, 2–3) and 12th-ranked NYU (14–1, 3–1) this weekend.