Playoffs approaching, a season on the line

Sophomore Maeve Sussman drives for an layup in battle against Skidmore College. The women’s team will next play Bard and RPI on Wednesday, Feb. 15 and Friday, Feb. 17 respectively. / Courtesy of Carlisle Stockton

Although the Vassar women’s basketball team has been playing since mid-October, the Brewer’s fate rests upon two days: Wednesday, Feb. 15, and Friday, Feb. 17.

In the last two weekends of intense conference play, VC went 2-2 as the team defeated No. 1 Skidmore College and No. 7 St. Lawrence, but fell to No. 5 Union College and No. 3 Clarkson University. With these results, the squad currently stands at sixth place in the Liberty League with a conference record (8-6) tied with No. 4 Rochester Institute of Technology and Union.

To advance to post-season play, Vassar has to hold a spot within the top four teams. Therefore, the women’s basketball team must defeat both Bard College and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to potentially earn a spot in playoffs.

On Friday, Feb. 3, The Brewers took on the Union Dutch on Vassar’s home court. The first quarter of the game held numerous lead changes prior to the Dutch taking control of the game in the second quarter, heading to half with a 32-23 lead.

Nevertheless, the Brewers regained momentum with a more connected offensive unit and outscored Union 18-6 in the third quarter. This surge, however, stumbled again as they entered the fourth period.

Head Coach Candice Brown noted that, despite better ball movement and the team’s ability to find good looks at the basket, shooting proved to be an issue throughout the final period. Notably, despite outshooting Union by 23 shots from the floor, the Brewers made only 27 percent of those while the Dutch scored 44 percent.

Sophomore guard Nicole Teta and freshman forward Sophie Nick each scored 10 points to lead the Brewers, as well as leading the team in rebounds with eight rebounds and seven rebounds respectively. Sophomore forward Sabrina Ulsh also added a seven-point effort.

Vassar rebounded quickly from the tough loss and stepped up to the challenge of playing No. 1 Skidmore the next day, Saturday, Feb. 4. Prior to the game against the Brewers, Skidmore had only lost two Liberty League games.

Sophomore Maeve Sussman commented, “We worked really hard on having selective-memory-loss. We recognized that we didn’t play well against Union but didn’t get caught up in the loss.” Sussman continued, “We looked at the game and what we needed to do better and took it as a learning experience. The next day when we played Skidmore that was the only thing we were thinking about.”

The game against Skidmore proved to be monumental for the Brewers in more ways than one. Vassar redeemed itself by winning by three points with a score of 52-59 after falling to the Thoroughbreds by only two points earlier in the season. All the while, junior Ariella Rosenthal also scored her 1,000th career point, making her the 12th Brewer in program history to reach that milestone.

Coach Brown smiled, “Ariella is a great player that works hard. She is very deserving of hitting the 1,000 point milestone. Her being able to accomplish this as a junior is attribute of her hard work.” 

Teta earned a prominent accomplishment herself as she secured the game while collecting a huge rebound with only 12 seconds left on clock and Vassar leading 60-59. She was immediately fouled and placed on the line where she perfectly executed both of her free throws, putting the Skidmore Thoroughbreds just out of reach of the win.

Rounding out the successes, Nick secured her seventh Liberty League Rookie of the Week honor following her impressive performances against Union and Skidmore.

“I feel really lucky to have been named Rookie of the Week several times over the course of the season. I owe it all to my teammates and coaches who have put me in the position to be successful,” Nick shared. “It is really fun to play for such a good team, and it is easy to play well when you are surrounded by other amazing players. I am really lucky to have coaches that have helped me to be the best version of myself, and that has largely contributed to my success and the team’s success this season.”

The momentum from defeating the highest ranked Liberty League team carried through to the next weekend as the Brewers traveled north to Clarkson University and St. Lawrence University for two more conference contests on Feb. 10 and 11.

Nick stated, “Beating Skidmore gave our team a lot of confidence going into our game against St. Lawrence, and it helped us to stay composed even when we fell behind during the game. St. Lawrence is a good team, but we knew if we played our game we would beat them just like we beat Skidmore.”

On Friday night, the Brewers played for the sweep of the season of St. Lawrence, defeating the Saints for the second time this season, this time with a score of 72-70. Vassar is no stranger to extremely close games at this point having just defeated Skidmore by two points six days prior.

The first two quarters of this game proved incredibly tight as there were multiple lead changes and a close score throughout the entire first half. Following halftime, however, the Brewers struggled to pick up where they left off, and it showed as they entered the third quarter down by 13 points.

Immediately upon entering the final quarter, the comeback began as the Brewers reemerged, led by freshman Isa Peczuh who scored the first five points of the final quarter. After the Brewers went on a 9-0 run, it was the Saints turn. The Saints led 64-55, at which point the Brewers staged a miraculous comeback in which they outscored St. Lawrence 17-6 for the rest of the game.

Nick completed the run by scoring a game-winning layup with just three seconds on the clock. Nick shared, “We work everyday in practice for moments like that, and there is no greater feeling than winning a close game. In intense moments like that, you stop thinking and natural instinct takes over. Your body knows what to do, and you have to trust that all your hard work will pay off and you will get the job done.”

Coach Candice Brown reflected, “Coming off a big win over Skidmore was definitely motivation to hang in there against St. Lawrence. I think what was more motivating was how the New England Patriots came back in the Super Bowl and I just reminded our team of this going into the fourth quarter of the game.”

Vassar looked to win its third straight game as they traveled to Clarkson just one day after their amazing come-from-behind victory, but fell short as they lost to the Golden Knights by a score of 75-81.

Despite strong scoring performances by Rosenthal, Nick and Teta, the Brewers struggled with the Clarkson defense which forced 23 turnovers that led to 28 points. Clarkson started the game strong, scoring 30 points in the first quarter making it nearly impossible for the Brewers to ever catch up.

“Clarkson was a tough game for us. We played as individuals rather than as a team. In practice we will definitely be working on executing our offensives and playing team defense. We also discussed the energy, or lack thereof, we had during Clarkson. Everyone is looking to step up and get pumped for our next couple of games and leave it all out on the floor,” stated Sussman.

Despite the loss against Clarkson, Nick picked up her eighth Liberty League Rookie of the Week honor for her outstanding performance throughout the 1-1 weekend which included a game-winning layup. “Sophie is a really good player. She works tirelessly in practice and on her own. She is a player that never stops until she gets it right. I am very proud of her,” Coach Brown shared.

Even though the Brewers went 2-2 over the past two weekends, Vassar still has hope to earn a spot in the Liberty League playoffs.

Explaining their chances, Sussman stated, “To put ourselves in the best possible position to make playoffs, we need to win our next two games. Outside of that it’s more or less out of our control. We’re in a 3-way tie for 4th place at the moment, so we need the other teams tied with us to lose to either the top 3 teams or teams below us.”

With high spirits, Coach Brown noted, “We are continuously improving. We are working on playing a solid team defense and holding onto the ball. If we do these two things against Bard and RPI we give ourselves a great chance of winning.”

With its season on the line, Vassar will battle the Bard Raptors on Wednesday, Feb. 15 away and the RPI Engineers at home on Friday, Feb. 17 at 6 p.m.

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