February 4, 2011

Whatever the weather, Maroons head east

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The Maroons will follow the apocalyptic blizzard east this weekend as they travel to Cleveland to play Case Western and Pittsburgh to play Carnegie Mellon. This weekend’s opponents are a repeat of last weekend, except this time the Maroons will be playing outside of the friendly confines of the Ratner Athletic Center. Playing the same teams in consecutive weekends will allow the Maroons to fix last weekend’s mistakes.

“Last weekend, we were very happy with our performance on the offensive end, but we were definitely disappointed with the way we played defensively,” said third-year Taylor Simpson. “Especially since we will be on the road this time, we need to really lock down on defense and make that a main focus this upcoming weekend.”

Simpson in particular should be happy with her offensive performances. The Missouri native was named to national team of the week on Wednesday. The award recognizes the top player in the country at each position (Simpson is a center). Simpson has been on a tear lately, recording five consecutive double-doubles. She is also averaging a double double with 15.9 points and 10.6 rebounds a game. Individual success, however, means little to this team-oriented squad.

“I owe all of my success lately to my team,” Simpson said. “I couldn’t score the points I have without some pretty incredible passes from my teammates. Bryanne [Halfhill] and Meghan [Herrick] especially have an amazing ability to see the floor and get me the ball even when I don’t think I’m open, so all I have to do is make layups really. Everyone on the team is so unselfish, and no one cares about who gets the credit.”

Her sentiments were echoed by her teammates. Third-year Bryanne Halfill said, “The thing that’s so special about our team is that everyone is happy for each other’s successes, and we all want the girl next to us to play well. I don’t think anyone on our team is concerned with who gets the credit, just as long as we win. Honestly, I don’t believe anyone is looking at individual statistics, just as long as we end up with the W next to our names.”

The Maroons have the chance to do something that they haven’t done in the history of women’s basketball here at Chicago: Go undefeated in conference play. Chicago has gotten to the halfway mark of conference play unscathed, and they haven’t been winning by slim margins, either. The Maroons have won all of their game by at least 17 points, excluding their two-point win over Wash U and their six-point win over NYU.

Winning with such dominance has had some negative repercussions, however—other teams are now well aware that they have to give their best effort against this dynamic squad. NYU and Emory in particular came out firing and had strong offensive performances against the Maroons, scoring 81 and 75 points, respectively. The girls, however, are aware that the strength of the UAA conference means that every game will be a challenge.

“It’s definitely still a one-game-at-a-time mentality for us. We have been so successful lately because we’ve really been focusing on each game, one game at a time, without overlooking anyone. Especially in the UAA, every game is the championship game,” Simpson said.

Although it is far off, some UAA fans are salivating at the thought of Chicago traveling to Wash U for their final game of the season with a still undefeated conference record. If Wash U also wins the rest of their games leading up to the season finale, then the game—like last year—would decide the UAA champion. The Maroons, however, are ignoring the hype...for the most part.

“We all know in the back of our minds that Wash U is going to be one of our tougher games,” Halfhill said. “But we are definitely keeping the mentality that “the next game is the most important,” and that has really seemed to be working for us lately. We’re not taking any team lightly, and we know that we have to bust our butt every single second that we are out there on the court.”

“In the back of my mind I know that game at Wash U is sitting there, but I really have not given it any extended thought. It is a long road between here and there, and we have to be sure to keep our focus on this next game,” Roussell said.

Whatever happens between now and the February 26 game against Wash U, the Maroons can take solace in the fact that they have gotten the Chicago community energized about women’s basketball. Attendance at Maroon games is almost fifty percent higher than that of their opponents. The Maroons are undaunted, however, by bigger crowds, hyped opponents, or seemingly anything at all.

Said Halfhill, “It’s our goal to make sure that every team we play walks away knowing that Chicago deserved to win that game.”