Women’s Loss to Army in Seminfinals Ends Season

John Kelly

Heading into the Patriot League playoffs, the women’s basketball team received a morale boost when it was announced that two members of the team were awarded end of the year honors by the Patriot League. First-year Gretchen Polinski, on the strength of her stellar first season, made the all-Rookie Team. Furthermore, to cap her record-breaking season, senior guard Megan Ballard received all-Patriot League first-team honors. Always a stalwart on the defensive side of the ball, Ballard augmented her role by increasing her offensive production and finished the season second on the team in scoring.

Buoyed by this promising news, Colgate headed into the Patriot League quarterfinals against Navy three weeks ago. This marked their third meeting in 12 days between the two schools and Colgate entered the contest hoping to avenge two regular-season losses. Led by Ballard’s 17 points, the Raiders raced out to take a commanding halftime lead and never looked back en route to a 60-55 victory.

Head coach Kristin Hughes explained the difference between the regular season losses and the playoff win. “We never really played well the first two games against Navy,” she said. “However, today, it wasn’t that we had a drastic change in strategy; it was just more of a matter of showing up. Today we certainly showed up.”

In the opening minutes of the game, both teams struggled from the floor, as they adjusted to the pressure of tournament play. The Raiders were the first to settle their nerves and closed the half on an 8-0 run that gave them a 30-24 lead entering the break. Colgate opened the second half with two quick baskets to take a 34-24 lead, but Navy responded with an 8-0 run of their own to climb to within two points. The Raiders again charged forward with a 12-2 run that gave them their largest lead of the game. Navy crept back, but Ballard iced the game at the line by nailing two clutch free throws down the stretch.

“The last time we played them it was a similar scenario,” Ballard said. “It was a close game and we tried to learn from our mistakes – limit turnovers and make free throws. I think we did that today.”

In addition to Ballard’s performance, Colgate was also paced by sophomore guard Melanie Cargle, who poured in 13 points. Polinski, meanwhile, contributed nine points and collected 10 rebounds in the winning effort.

Following their victory, the Raiders received news that they would face top-seeded Army in the semifinal round. Although daunting, Hughes believed her team was up to the task. “The girls have done a really good job of not paying attention to our record or our seeding, or whether or not we are playing at home or on the road,” she said.

With this fearless mentality, and bolstered by their regular season victory at home against the Black Knights, the Raiders entered the game with confidence. Unfortunately, the eventual Patriot League champs were too much for the Raiders to handle. On the strength of sophomore guard Cara Enright’s 27 points, the Black Knights secured a 73-55 victory.

Spurred on by the boisterous cadet crowd, Army raced out to a 6-0 lead and headed into the break up by seven points, 30-23. In the second half, Army opened with two baskets to extend its lead to 11 at 34-23. The Raiders, sparked by sophomore Caitlin Gillard’s five points, went on an 8-2 run to cut the lead to 36-31. However, the Black Knights put the game away by going on a 14-8 run to take a 50-39 lead at the 9:08 mark. From this point on Army’s lead would swell to as many as 20 before finishing at 18.

Although it was a disappointing end to the season, Colgate can find solace in the strong performances put on by their underclassmen. Cargle and Gillard led the team with 13 points apiece while Polinski paced the Raiders on the boards by collecting eight caroms.

Looking towards the future, Hughes believes this was a critical season for gaining experience.

“A lot of young kids got a lot of experience,” she said. “Though we appear young on the stat sheet, experience-wise we have a lot coming back. With Melanie, [sophomore] Shervorne Martin, Cailtin Gillard and Gretchen all getting significant minutes, we should be a confident team next year. In addition, we have six new faces coming in next year and we are also looking forward to getting [junior guard] Molly Patterson back.”

Despite the younger returnees, however, the team will miss the presence of its three seniors, Ballard, Megan Curtin and Devon Warwick. Still, the team remains optimistic for next year and it should be exciting to follow Colgate during their 2006-2007 quest for a Patriot League Tournament Championship.