The Violets have qualified for the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament for the first time since the 2015-2016 season, where they were eliminated in the second round. They will be facing Emmanuel College in the first round on Friday, March 6 at Bowdoin College.
“Our program is ecstatic for the opportunity to continue our season,” Coach Meg Barber said. “We’re just enjoying the moment, and our players have certainly worked really hard to earn this opportunity to continue playing.”
NYU just completed an impressive regular season, finishing with a 20-5 overall record and a second-place finish in the UAA conference (10-4), just one game behind the University of Chicago (11-3). The elite competition in the UAA has prepared the Violets for the rigors of the postseason.
“The great thing about playing in the UAA is that it prepares us for anything,” Barber said. “The coaching is outstanding and the level of play is outstanding as well, so I think at this point, we know how to prepare and how to maintain that focus that is necessary to compete in the postseason.”
On the court, the Violets’ strength lies in its potent offense and suffocating defense. For the season, the Violets averaged 77.6 points per game while only allowing 62.0 points per game — outscoring their opponents by an average of 15.6 points per game. On the offensive side, Steinhardt junior Janean Cuffee and CAS senior and co-captain Annie Barrett have had a breakout season, averaging 20.1 points per game and 7.5 assists per game respectively. On the defensive side, Steinhardt first-year Jenny Walker has flourished as an interior presence, averaging 6.5 rebounds per game and 1.5 blocks per game. Their teammate chemistry off the court has led to this success on the court.
“We all complement each other really well on the court and off the court, we’re all best friends,” Barrett said. “That [chemistry] has translated to our success on the court.”
In addition to the veteran roster — which consists of 11 returning players — the first-years, headlined by Walker and CAS first-year Brooklyn Shelton, have been impressive. They’ve provided depth and energy to complement the experience that the returning members offer. Shelton, as the second-leading scorer, has played a key role in the Violet offense, averaging 12.5 points per game. Although the playoff atmosphere can be daunting, especially for first-years, Shelton believes the team is ready.
“It definitely is a little more nerve-wracking coming in as a first-year and not know what to expect,” Shelton said. “But, we put in the time and work so we definitely are prepared coming into the tournament.”
As one of the captains on the team, along with CAS senior Mikaela Read, Barrett is ready to make sure that the team maintains their composure during these high-stake games, despite never competing in the NCAA Tournament herself.
“I personally have zero experience with the NCAA Tournament, but having played four full years, I know what it takes to win and play games that have a lot of importance,” Barrett said. “It’s important for me to say to everyone that it’s a big game, but it’s also just another game. We can only do this one step at a time, we can’t look to the championship game, we have to get past Friday night.”
Finishing the season with a 21-7 record and winning eight straight games, beating Emmanuel College will not be easy. For the Violets, the key to this match is playing their own game.
“[Emmanuel College] is a very well-coached team,” Barber said. “They play an up-tempo style and they press a lot, so the most important factors for us will be playing our tempo for 40 minutes and taking care of the ball against their pressure. If we can do that, I think we’ll be in a really good position to move on.”
With the high expectations surrounding the Violets, the team is confident that they will be the last team remaining on March 21.
“[Our expectations] are to go all the way,” Cuffee said. “We are in one of the harder brackets, but I think once we break out of this bracket, we could really make it all the way.”
Email Arvind Sriram at [email protected]