Wheaton heads into NEWMAC semifinals for fourth straight year
NORTON, MA- The fourth-seeded Wheaton College women's basketball team takes to the road at Babson College this weekend in an effort to capture its second New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Tournament title in three years, as the Lyons will take part in a semifinal for the fourth consecutive season. Wheaton dispatched of number-five Smith College, 62-56 on Wednesday in the first round to advance.
During Saturday's opening semifinal, the Blue and White plays at 1:00 p.m. against top-seeded Babson, which went 18-0 against league foes in the regular season before controlling the eighth-seeded United States Coast Guard Academy, 75-26 during a first-round contest. In the second semifinal, number-two Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) squares off with sixth-seeded Wellesley College at 3:00 p.m. The winners meet on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. with the NEWMAC Tournament title and an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament on the line.
As the fourth seed last winter, the Lyons advanced all the way to the league tournament title game against the number-two Beavers. After being deadlocked at 43 with just over two minutes to play, Babson tallied the final eight points. On Saturday, 16-10 Wheaton takes on the 23-3 Beavers, who are riding a school-record-tying 15-game winning streak. The squads have met eight times in postseason action, with Babson winning six. During the Beavers' two wins over the Lyons this year, Wheaton trailed by eight with less than three minutes to go during a 70-58 loss on December 2 before trailing by six with less than six minutes left in a 69-50 setback on January 27.
Wheaton is a conference tournament semifinalist for the fourth straight campaign, the first time the Lyons have turned the feat since appearing in the penultimate round during the first 11 years of the league's existence, from 1986 to 1996, prior to the conference evolving into the NEWMAC for the 1998-99 season. By virtue of posting a 12-6 NEWMAC mark in the regular season, tying a program record for league wins during the conference's first year employing an 18-game, double-round-robin slate, Wheaton's 42-15 league record over the past four seasons is third among the 10 NEWMAC squads to only WPI (45-12) and Babson (43-14).
The Blue and White is among the NEWMAC's leaders in seven categories, pacing the conference in free throw percentage and three-pointers behind a program-record 159 triples. Wheaton is also second in scoring average, three-point percentage, assists, rebounding margin and assist-to-turnover ratio.
The third-leading scorer on the team, senior point guard Andrea Bailey (Needham, MA/Needham) serves as one of the most versatile players in the league, averaging 9.0 points, 6.1 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 1.9 steals, as she is first in the NEWMAC in assists (159) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.54) and second in three-point percentage (.386). Bailey also shoots 83.1 percent from the charity stripe. During her 12-point, nine-rebound, six-assist, six-steal effort against Smith on Wednesday, she broke the program's 20-year-old single-season assists mark. Wheaton's career leader with 491 assists is fourth in Division III in helpers per game.
A co-captain along with Bailey, senior Jenny Champney (Bedford, MA/Bedford) paces the team with 12.9 points and 6.0 boards to go along with 31 blocks, as she stands fourth in the league in scoring and rejections. Her 146 career blocks are a school record. Freshman Jeana Trimboli (Norwalk, CT/Trinity Catholic) has canned a league-best 59 three-pointers, the second-highest total in school annals, and is second in the league among freshmen at 10.9 points. Her 78 assists are third in the league, where she also sits in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.03).
Senior Ida Kruse (Vershire, VT/Rivendell Academy) totaled 17 points against Smith to add another item to a strong postseason resume, as she neared a double-double in last year's title game after notching 12 points and six boards off the bench in the 2008 championship contest, a 74-69 victory. She averages 7.7 points and 4.6 boards during her first season in the starting five. Sophomore Gabbie DePalo (Rumson, NJ/Rumson-Fair Haven Regional) shoots 51.6 percent with 4.9 points and 3.7 rebounds, and freshman Natasha Colon Ortiz (Holyoke, MA/Holyoke) provides 4.7 points and 4.4 caroms in just 11.9 minutes per game. Classmate Gabby Barbera (Ridgewood, NJ/Ridgewood) adds 4.8 points on a 37.8-percent showing from three, third in the league, while senior Stephanie Walker (Somers, CT/Somers) has started all 26 games and is third on the team in assists (44).