Jumbos look to remain undefeated, face WPI in non-conference showdown

Senior guard/forward and co-captain Erica DeCandido shoots a free throw during a game against Bates on Jan. 19. Madeleine Oliver / The Tufts Daily Archives

The women’s basketball team continued its red hot start to the 2019–20 season, calmly dispatching Emerson College 87–43 on Tuesday. The win gives the Jumbos six wins in as many contests — a strong foundation for what will be a very long season. The Jumbos found offensive sparks from both their starters and their reserves, highlighted by efficient shooting from sophomore guard Molly Ryan and senior guard and co-captain Lilly Paro. Ryan, a native of Westfield, N.J., went 3 for 3 from beyond the arc, and led the team with 29 minutes. Senior guard/forward and co-captain Erica DeCandido also put in a strong shift, grabbing 11 rebounds and scoring 7 points in 27 minutes of action. 

For a team that prides itself on defense and transition baskets, the long rebounds from Emerson’s barrage of 3-point attempts allowed the Jumbos to be effective on the break.

“Emerson was very guard-heavy and shot lots of 3s,” DeCandido said following the victory.

First-year coach Jill Pace continued, emphasizing the defensive scheme the Jumbos were able to pull together.

“We’ve been able to get defensive stops that are leading to great transition opportunities,” Pace said. “We pride ourselves on our defense and using that momentum to get good looks on offense is important.” 

This sentiment of offense flowing from defense isn’t simply a Pace motto: it’s becoming the MO of the whole team.

“We pride ourselves in our defense, which fuels our offense,” DeCandido said. “Every day we are working on new challenges to improve our team defense.” 

Using staunch defense to launch breaks on the offense will be important against a very good team in Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) when the sides square off on Saturday.

WPI stands at 5–2 to start its season, which includes a 56–45 win over Emerson. The Engineers trailed 4–2 going into the second quarter of that game, which highlights the inconsistencies that have hurt them early in the season. WPI’s most balanced performance came against Fitchburg State University, with consistent production led by Lisa Cristiano off the bench with 16 points. 

Last season, WPI and Tufts squared off in January with the Jumbos coming out on top 68–31. That was one of 14 losses for the Engineers last year. The Engineers have no lack of experience and leadership at the head coach spot, as Cherise Galasso begins her 20th campaign as coach of WPI’s women’s basketball team. Galasso guided WPI to three straight ECAC (Eastern College Athletic Conference) finals from 2016–18.

Compare the longtime experience of Galasso to the feisty, ready-to-prove energy of Pace, and you have two teams coming into this contest with entirely contrasting histories. While it is not Pace’s first job as a head coach, having had a brilliant three-year tenure at Pomona Pitzer in California from 2016–18, her comfort level with the program is certainly different from that of Galasso. However, Pace is already forming a strong bond with her team and her coaching staff. 

“Our team is extremely close on and off the court, and that has developed over time with strong captain and senior leadership,” Pace said. 

In a preseason interview, Pace talked a lot about developing a strong culture and having the players buy in to that culture. 

“The buy-in from all of our players to get better every day is definitely there,” Pace said.

The bond between the players and coaching staff is certainly showing up on the court, as the Jumbos are relying on scorers from all across their lineup to step up and contribute. When speaking on the Emerson game, Pace commented on this.

“It was great to see so many different players step up at different moments throughout the game,” Pace said.

If this team is hoping to make a deep playoff run, it should give Pace immense confidence that she has an array of scorers and contributors who can step up when other players are having an off day. 

Looking ahead, Pace was quick to recognize the strength of the WPI program and its hot start to the season. 

“WPI is a great team that is off to a hot start. I expect a defensive and rebounding battle,” Pace said. 

Expect DeCandido to play a big role in establishing a Jumbo presence on the boards. 

The Jumbos are becoming used to exceptionally strong starts, and have been starting seasons undefeated through at least six games every year since 2016–17. This season is no different in terms of results, yet Pace is working hard to bring in new traditions and culture in her first year returning to Medford. DeCandido explained the onset of these new traditions.

“Every day is a new experience and a chance to get to know our new coaches and all of our teammates better,” DeCandido said. “It’s fun to start new traditions as a senior class as well.”

One tradition that has already been established is early season dominance. Expect this Jumbo team to come out swarming the ball and attacking the boards with hopes of keeping their perfect season alive. 

Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. Saturday in Worcester. 


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