SPORTS

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February 26, 2010

Title Fight: Women's basketball battles for share of UAA title

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This is what coming full circle must look like.

Seven weeks ago, women’s basketball walked out of WU Field House with a 29-point loss and a massive burden on their shoulders. A team with serious conference title aspirations had suffered one of the worst losses in program history against a rival school in the league opener. They would need to be nearly perfect to make the rematch in the season’s final game mean anything.

So that’s what they did.

When sixth-ranked Wash U (22–2, 12–1) comes to town for the regular-season finale Saturday afternoon, the 21st-ranked Maroons (19–5, 11–2) have a chance at more than payback: They have a chance at a share of the UAA crown.

“When we left St. Louis, our goal was to make sure this final game meant something, and we’ve achieved that goal,” head coach Aaron Roussell said. “Going into this game, to still have a chance at a share of the championship is a pretty big accomplishment.”

With 12 wins already, Wash U will arrive with at least part of the conference championship locked up. But in the latest installment of an increasingly intense rivalry between the Midwest neighbors, the Maroons will have the other half of that title in their sights, playing for the third UAA Championship in program history.

“The rivalry makes the game so much more exciting because we aren’t just playing for a share in the UAA title, but also for pride,” fourth-year forward Molly Hackney said. “The games are high energy, a lot of fun, and extremely competitive.”

The turning point for the rivalry between Chicago and Wash U came in 2008. Prior to that season, Wash U had won at least a share of the conference crown 17 times in 20 seasons of UAA play. But with the title on the line in the final game of that season, the Maroons dominated the Bears at home, scoring a 76–53 win to capture the conference crown and start a new chapter in the feud.

Now Chicago plays the role of up-and-comer while Wash U defends its spot as cream of the UAA crop.

“The biggest thing is they’re the top dog and have been for the entire history of conference,” Roussell said. “They do a phenomenal job, and I like those kids. When you’re trying to [be] the best you can be, you’re obviously going to go against the best, and they’ve proven they’re the best.”

When the Maroons ended the Bears’ string of 10 straight conference championships in 2008, it solidified the programs’ mutual respect.

“I have a great deal of respect for coach Roussell and their team,” Wash U head coach Nancy Fahey said. “The rivalry is a positive rivalry; I think that’s the most important thing. That’s what we enjoy, is going out and playing some good basketball.”

The latest installment of the Chicago–Wash U series will pit two of the most experienced teams in the UAA against each other. With the Maroons celebrating their five fourth-years on Senior Day, the Bears are bringing three seniors and one graduate student of their own, making for a clash of two teams with plenty of big-game experience.

For Chicago, fourth-year leadership has been vital down the stretch. Hackney has led the Maroons with 10.5 points and six rebounds per game in conference play, while fourth-year Jamie Stinson has added another 7.9 points per UAA contest.

“I think our seniors have stepped up and become great leaders,” Roussell said. “For whatever reason, they hadn’t come out of their shell completely until last month, but we’ve been following them, and they’ve been doing a phenomenal job leading us.”

In a game with heavy postseason implications—both Chicago and Wash U are NCAA hopefuls in the Midwest Region—the Maroons are looking for their third postseason appearance in program history. It’s been seven weeks since their last meeting, but both teams are heading into Saturday’s contest with a clean slate.

“The last game has no bearing,” Fahey said. “The way the UAA is structured, these are two teams that have evolved and changed. There’s a reason we’re both playing for the champ on Saturday.”