Women’s Basketball Ends Season 1-11 in NESCAC

By Fritz Parker

The Middlebury women’s basketball team wrapped up its season this past weekend with road games against conference foes Trinity and Amherst. The Panthers fell behind in the second half in a loss at Trinity on Friday, Feb. 14, before being beaten from tip to buzzer in Sunday’s matchup with twelfth-ranked Amherst, the final game in a Panther jersey for Middlebury’s senior class.

By virtue of their loss to Bowdoin the previous week, Middlebury was eliminated from possible contention for the NESCAC playoffs before beginning the final weekend of the regular season. This was the second time in three years that the team had fallen outside the top eight in the regular-season conference standings and thus failed to qualify for the conference tournament.

For the team’s five seniors, this meant that they knew going into the weekend’s games that they would be the last of their college careers.

“It is strange to think that Sunday was the last time that I’ll play basketball competitively because I’ve been playing since I was three years old, so I’m not entirely sure that it has hit me yet,” Laura Lowry ’14 said. “As always, it was great to be able to get the opportunity to put on my jersey and compete with my teammates.”

Middlebury got out to a quick start in Friday’s matchup with Trinity, taking a 7-2 lead three minutes in on a jumper from Elizabeth Knox ’17. The Bantams came storming back, however, knotting the score at 11 with a pair of free throws four minutes later. Trinity used a large rebounding advantage to stretch that lead through halftime, going into the break with a 35-25 lead.

The Panthers played their way back into the game in the opening minutes of the second half. After Rachel Crews ’15 hit on a pair of free throws, Knox converted a layup to cut the lead to 42-38 with 15 minutes left to play and force a Trinity timeout.

From that point, a rash of turnovers and poor rebounding from the Panthers allowed the Bantams to regain control of the momentum. Trinity was able to extend its lead to over 20 with seven minutes to play before a late Middlebury run cut the lead to a 65-50 final in favor of Trinity.

Guard Sarah Marcus ’14 led Middlebury with 10 points in the losing effort, while Lowry and Crews each added nine. The Panthers struggled to match the Bantams on the glass throughout the game, conceding a 48-33 rebounding deficit that led to 11 fewer shots for Middlebury. Trinity held Middlebury’s leading rebounder, Scarlett Kirk ’14, to just six rebounds in the game, nearly four below her season average.

Back on the road against twelfth-ranked Amherst on Sunday, the Panthers put up a fight early before letting the game get out of hand in the later stretches of the opening half.

After Amherst took an early lead, Crews converted a three-point play six minutes in to draw the Panthers within two at 9-7. Over the next 12 minutes, however, the Lord Jeffs went on a 29-3 scoring run that effectively ended the game before halftime. During that stretch – which included a seven-minute scoreless drought for Middlebury – Amherst used strong rebounding and deadly three-point shooting to overwhelm the Panthers. At the half, Middlebury trailed 43-15.

With Amherst’s reserves playing significant minutes, Middlebury was unable to mount any sort of comeback in the second half. The Lord Jeffs shot over 50 percent from the field after the intermission, allowing them to further stretch the lead. While the Panthers were more efficient on the offensive end in the second half, the lead was simply too much to overcome, and they fell by a final tally of 79-41.

That result was a bitter ending for Middlebry’s seniors.

“Obviously, I wish that the outcome was different but I love competing against the best teams in the country,” Lowry said. “I chose Middlebury because I wanted to play in the best conference in the country, among other things of course. I loved the four years that I got to play on this team and I learned an incredible amount.”

With the sour end to the regular season, Middlebury finishes the 2013-2014 campaign with a final record of 7-17, including a 1-9 mark in conference play. The Panthers finish in a three-way tie with Colby and Bates for last place in the NESCAC, a setback from last year’s 4-6 conference record and fourth-place finish.

For the team’s seniors, the season is the culmination of a rocky career which saw them go winless in the conference as sophomores in 2011-2012 before rebounding to make the playoffs during their junior seasons.

Nevertheless, Lowry believes that the seniors have left on a mark on the program that will allow the current underclassmen to build on their struggles going forward.

“When the underclassmen and the coaches look back and think about my class, I want them to remember us as a hardworking, unselfish group of competitors who embodied what Middlebury basketball is,” Lowry said. “I want them to remember us as great teammates, who cared about every girl on the team and put them before ourselves.”

In the senior trio of Kirk, Marcus and Lowry, Middlebury graduates nearly 30 points and 16 rebounds per game, a considerable void which they will need to fill if they are to start the rebuilding process in the 2014-2015. The seniors leave behind a core of talented underclassmen – including Knox and Crews, the team’s second and fifth leading scorers – who will hope to improve on this year’s record as they lead the Panthers into next season.

“I want the underclassmen to continue the unselfishness and relentless play that has characterized Middlebury basketball for at least the last four years and I am very confident that they will continue to do so,” Lowry said.