March 10, 2008

W. Cagers Take Their First Ivy Crown

Print More

Before the season started, 16 sports writers from around the Ivy League selected Harvard as the overwhelming favorite to repeat as conference champions, while selecting Cornell to finish second. As it turns out, they were wrong, to a degree. With Harvard’s loss to Yale Saturday and Cornell’s 73-58 win over Penn and 76-59 win over Princeton, the Red captured a share of the Ivy League title for the first time in school history.
Cornell (19-8), Harvard (18-10) and Dartmouth (14-14) — which was selected to finish fourth in the conference at the beginning of the year — finished the regular season with identical 11-3 records to split the Ivy League crown. While all three teams are officially champions of the Ivy League, there will be a series of one-game playoffs this weekend at Columbia to see who will represent the Ivy League at the NCAA Tournament.
Coming into the weekend, the Red was tied for second-place with the Green, both one game back of the Crimson. Dartmouth and Cornell did their part, both sweeping their weekend series.
“I don’t think there was any added pressure,” sophomore Allie Fedorowicz said. “I don’t think there’s been any pressure all season, because we just knew what we had to take care of, and we knew that if we played our game and did what we worked on all week at practice, then we’d be successful. I just think we knew we had to take care of business, and we did.”[img_assist|nid=28685|title=Ivy Champions|desc=The women’s basketball team ended the regular season in a three-way tie for first place in the Ivy League.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
With a chance at the conference title, Cornell opened the weekend with a convincing win over Penn. Five Red players reached double-digit points, led by 17 from junior forward Jeomi Maduka. Juniors Kayleen Fitzsimmons, Shannan Scarselletta, Fedorowicz and co-captain Moina Snyder rounded out the bunch. Snyder and Scarselletta, also a Sun columnist, led the team with five rebounds apiece, while sophomore Lauren Benson paced the Red with 7 assists.
“I thought we came out and we played pretty well,” said head coach Dayna Smith. “I thought Penn was going to be a tough, scrappy team. They had injuries to a couple of their starters and they were playing some younger kids who have been doing some nice things.
“I thought for us, it was nice that we refocused on the offensive end and got back to playing solid, team basketball. That’s what we worked on last week, and we were able to get that done.”
Cornell kept the momentum rolling into Saturday, when they again faced a must-win situation, still one-game back of Harvard heading into the final game of the season. Against the Tigers, the Red took care of business early, mounting a 41-22 first-half lead on the strength of 62 percent shooting. Although Princeton outscored Cornell, 37-35, in the second stanza, Cornell won by a comfortable 17-point margin, 76-59.
After being honored prior to the start of their final game at Newman Arena, Snyder, with senior co-captains Gretchen Gregg and Megan Hughes, combined for 20 points and 11 rebounds. Maduka led the team with 18 points while grabbing a game-high nine boards.
After Cornell beat Princeton, Harvard was still engaged in a close game with Yale. The win against the Tigers kept the Red in the running for the Ivy League title, but Cornell still needed some help from the Bulldogs.
“Honestly, we didn’t even think about the Harvard game,” Smith said. “We didn’t talk about it once. We focused more on just trying to end [the season] on a right note — try to honor our seniors by the way we play and get a win for them. We talked about being 7-0 at home in the conference while nobody else in the league was able to go undefeated [at home].”
“We just knew we had to take care of our business, and the outcomes of the other games were out of our control,” Fedorowicz said. “We knew that if we just focused on Penn and Princeton, things would just hopefully fall into place. We couldn’t have asked for a better result.”
The night after Dartmouth beat Yale, 62-52, Yale upset Harvard, 64-58, helping Cornell in its path to Ivy League supremacy.
“We beat Princeton, and as were running off the court down into the locker room, we heard that Harvard was winning by one with four minutes,” Smith said. “We were going to stay in the locker room, but we heard that there was quite a few fans, students and family upstairs in the gym watching [the Harvard game] on the internet.”
“So we went up [to the gym], and it was great — there were tons of people in the gym, the announcer was announcing the score, and our team was together on the court and when they announced [Harvard lost], our team was able to celebrate together.”
Yale’s upset of Harvard — the Bulldog’s first win over the Crimson this year — not only gave Cornell its first-ever Ivy League title, but gave the Red a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament.
“It was unbelievable,” Fedorowicz said. “We were all up in the gym [following the game online], and when we found out [Harvard lost], we were all just ecstatic. We were jumping up and down — it was really the greatest feeling ever. We knew how hard we worked all season, and to see it pay off was just great.”
In what was already a historical season, Maduka scored her 1000th point against the Tigers, becoming only the 11th Red player to reach the milestone. In addition, Benson broke the school record for assists in a season. The win over Princeton also furthered the Red’s school record for overall wins in a season to 19 and the program record for conference wins to 11. The 2007-08 team has already established itself as numerically the most successful team in Cornell history, with a chance at its first NCAA Tournament appearance still on the line.