Women’s basketball secures 1st undefeated regular season, looks to NESCAC tournament

Senior guard Sadie Otley goes for a layup during a game against Williams in Cousens Gym on Feb. 15. Alexander Thompson / The Tufts Daily

The No. 1 women’s basketball team wrapped up a historical regular season on Saturday, defeating Williams 76–63 to tally the 24th win of an undefeated regular season, the first in team history.

Saturday was Senior Day for the Jumbos, who honored a class that has been instrumental in the team’s success this season and in years past. Senior guard Cailin Harrington and junior guard/forward Emily Briggs led the charge with 17 and 14 points respectively, with senior guard Sadie Otley also pouring on 13 points in the win. The group shot seven of eight from beyond the arc and were efficient at the free throw line as Harrington knocked down all four of her attempts from the stripe.

Coach Jill Pace, who has been seemingly magical in her first season at Tufts, praised her senior class and their leadership ability.

“I can’t say enough about the leadership that our four seniors have brought this season,” said Pace. “They care so deeply about our program and the university, and have really set a standard of excellence for our [underclassmen] players.” 

Senior Day came just a day after the Jumbos took down Middlebury 77–54 on Friday night at Cousens Gym. Senior guard/forward and co-captain Erica DeCandido led the way with seven rebounds and 20 points, buoyed by eight for nine shooting from the free throw line. Junior guard Erin Poindexter McHan turned in a nine point, five assist and four rebound effort coming off the bench. 

Both games are characteristic of the Jumbos’ depth, who have proved game in and game out that they have one of the deepest, most balanced lineups in the NESCAC. As a team, the Jumbos do not lead the league in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage, turnovers, free throw percentage or points, yet they hold the league lead in assists. Even with a possible All-American player like DeCandido, the Jumbos have received crucial contributions from the likes of Briggs, Harrington, sophomore guard Molly Ryan, junior forward Angela Alibrandi and sophomore guard Sofia Rosa, among others.

In the mind of Pace, a Bowdoin alumna, players like DeCandido cannot maximize their potentials unless they are being pushed every day in practice by hungry bench players like first-year Colby Shea and first-year guard/forward Maggie Russell. The Jumbos’ depth has yet to be matched this season, and it may prove to be the most effective formula once again in the postseason. 

“Each player has an equally important role on our team, one through 14,” said Pace.

In the NESCAC tournament, the biggest title threats aside from Tufts appear to be Bowdoin and Amherst, teams that have pushed Tufts the closest to its limits this season. Each team forced the Jumbos to take on a drastically different approach in order to get the win, a testament to the ability of Pace and her team to adapt to the style of their opponent and the unique flow of each game. 

“Amherst is a very [defense-driven] team,” said DeCandido. “They lead the league in lowest points against, so it was a real defensive struggle.”

That matchup against the Mammoths on Jan. 18 proved to be the Jumbos’ lowest point total of the season as they grinded their way to a 48–46 OT win.

Against Bowdoin, which at the time was a matchup between the No. 1 and No. 2 nationally-ranked teams, Tufts put up their highest point total of the season en route to a 97-88 win. The Polar Bears enter the postseason as the No. 5 team in the nation, while the Jumbos continue to have a firm grasp on the top spot. 

“The NESCAC is a phenomenal conference from top to bottom,” Pace said. “We’re focused on our one game this weekend.” 

DeCandido also expressed a similar mindset — that any team in the NESCAC can win. Specifically, DeCandido pointed toward Hamilton as a potential dark horse.

“Any team has a chance to come out and beat anyone,” DeCandido said.

The team has its sights firmly set on Wesleyan, the Jumbos’ first round opponent. The two sides squared off in the NESCAC season opener, a contest the Jumbos won 78–60. DeCandido shined against the Cardinals, scoring 28 points along with 10 rebounds. While the Cardinals spent much of the game in man-to-man defense, they switched to zone towards the end, likely in an effort to contain the red-hot DeCandido.

“They may come out right away in zone this time,” said DeCandido.

The Jumbos, led by a stellar senior class, have become enthralled with winning this season, and are likely to exhibit their unmatched confidence throughout the postseason.

“[The seniors] have a great sense of how to balance intensity, fun and focus on the court, which I think trickles down to everyone on the team,” Pace said.

The quest for the NESCAC title — and to keep the undefeated streak alive — begins this Saturday at 2:00 p.m. in Cousens Gym.


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