The Jumbos will face the Williams Ephs this season for the third time, but on this occasion, the fate of both teams’ seasons on the line.
Given the familiarity that both teams now have with each other, senior guard and co-captain Jac Knapp recognized that Tufts will have to be at the top of its game.
Earlier in the season, Tufts defeated Williams 67–41 at the Williams tournament that predated the official start of the NESCAC season. Knapp led the way with 18 points in that game. When conference play came around, Tufts recorded a 60–39 victory in Williamstown, Mass. Tufts’ victory was fueled by three 10-plus point scorers: junior guard Cailin Harrington (16), junior forward/guard and co-captain Erica DeCandido (13) and first-year guard Sofia Rosa (12).
This time, however, the Jumbos host the Ephs at home, with Knapp and coach Carla Berube hoping that home advantage will once again propel the Jumbos to victory.
“We’re happy that it’s a home game,” Berube said. “We put ourselves in a really good position to play in our house and … not having to go on the road to Williams for a third time. I think it’s in this time of the year, teams should be peaking so I’m sure we’re gonna get their very best because they’re fighting for their season.”
Knapp echoed her coach’s sentiments.
“This is the third time we’re playing them, so I think they probably know us pretty well and we know them pretty well,” Knapp said. “Saturday’s going to be a good game. It’s [at] home, so hopefully everyone comes out and supports us.”
Tufts will be wary of the play-making abilities of Williams’ sophomore guard Maggie Meehan. Meehan was Williams’ leading scorer in the regular season, with her 12.5 points-per-game good enough for ninth in the conference. The Jumbos will also have to watch out for junior guard Emily Chang, who is shooting 41.3 percent from downtown.
“They have some really good shooters and they have a really good post player, so we need to make sure we’re ready for that,” Knapp said. “We’ve got to make sure on defense we’re talking, we’re just communicating everything and making sure we’re working hard on the boards so that they don’t get any second-chance opportunities.
On the other side, Williams’ coach Pat Manning believes her team needs to perform strongly on the defensive front. Manning said that she felt Tufts’ offense had many weapons, including Knapp and DeCandido.
“Jac Knapp’s done a great job running the show for them and she’s had a great senior year and stays very composed and the floor and leads the way,” Manning said. “I also think Erica DiCandido is a dangerous weapon for them because she can score in a lot of ways. Overall we’re not highlighting necessarily one or two to stop because they do have a very balanced team, but knowing that we just have to play really good team defense and communicate on the floor and not become so consumed with one player because anybody can step up at any time. So it’s really, really focusing on a team defense approach where we’re just sort of working off each other and make sure we’re communicating at every place.”
Both coaches also recognized the difficulty of going up against the other team and demonstrated their respect for the opposing coach’s experience. Manning acknowledged that Berube’s ability to prepare her teams defensively will be the biggest challenge for her Williams team.
“They really deny hard and their goal is to not allow you to run your offense and to take away your first looks on offense,” Manning said. “We have to be patient, you have to not rush things and just really kind of work the ball around and take what they’re giving us. I mean the greatest defense can’t stop everything, but I think sometimes we don’t always read what we do have. So I think that’s got to be a goal against any of Carla’s teams is that you are prepared for the intensity of their defense and that you keep your cool, keep your composure and continue to work the ball.”
Manning recently recorded her 500th victory as a Div. III women’s basketball head coach with her team’s 58–34 victory over Colby on Feb. 1. While Williams suffered losses against Bowdoin and Amherst, it closed out the season by winning at Hamilton 64–59. With 29 years of coaching experience, it is safe to say that the Jumbos are up against a well-coached team on Saturday.
Berube spoke to the legacy that Manning has left behind for both the conference and Div. III women’s basketball. Berube explained that Manning led the charge to establish a Div. III women’s basketball all-star game, something their male counterparts have had for three years now.
“She’s accomplished so much in her career. She’s someone that I’ve always … looked up to and turned to for advice for the NESCAC and just a really important person in the WBCA [Womens’ Basketball Coaches Association],” Berube said. “Every time we play against them, I want to be at my best because you know Williams will be very well prepared and so I’m excited to always see her. Yeah, I’m expecting her team’s very best on Saturday.”
Berube and the Jumbos hope to keep Manning from picking up win number 502 on Saturday.