Women’s basketball’s preseason preparation yields strong start to season in weekend victories

The Tufts women's basketball team faces off against Smith College on Jan. 31. Kiana Vallo / The Tufts Daily
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In a thrilling matchup on Friday, the Jumbos rallied for a 60–57 road victory against Worcester Polytechnic Institute, showcasing the team’s grit and perseverance. After a strong first quarter for Tufts led by sophomore guard Annika Decker’s eight points, the Engineers responded and took a five-point lead going into halftime. The Jumbos had a slow start in the second half, trailing by as many as 16 points, but junior forward Maggie Russell spearheaded the momentum shift, scoring 21 points in the last two quarters. A foul against Russell with less than a minute remaining gave her two free throw shots, which she made to bring Tufts’ lead to three. Time and lockdown defense worked against WPI at the end of the contest, as none of the Engineers’ three final three-point opportunities were successful, and the Jumbos returned from Worcester victorious.

The team’s emphasis on developing a winning culture during pre-season laid the foundation for its impressive comeback against WPI. Sophomore forward Mikayla Paquette, who made all five shots she took against the Engineers, commented on the importance of mental preparation.

“We, as a team, have spent a lot of time working on our personal goals and our team goals,” she said. “We’ve really come together to have a good base of what our culture for our team is going to be this year, and I think that’s really helped us in our first couple of games.”

Decker expressed how defense was crucial in beating WPI and contributed to much of the team’s success throughout the weekend. 

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“We just knew that our defense would keep us in the game,” she said. “We were getting good looks, and it was just about being patient and getting easy baskets and just trusting each other.”

Less than 24 hours after their hard-fought win in Worcester, the Jumbos traveled to Waltham, Mass. to face regional opponent Brandeis. Russell once again led the offense with 31 points, followed by junior guard Hannah Kelly’s 16 and Decker’s 15. The defense continued to put on a show, at one point holding Brandeis scoreless for over 10 minutes, to secure an 84–70 victory. Though the Judges mustered some momentum early in the third quarter and tied the game, Tufts responded with 11 unanswered points and maintained a solid lead, taking down Brandeis for the 13th straight time.

“[The Judges] feed off of energy, so [when] we’re able to just crush their energy a little bit and prolong that, it becomes an easier game for us,” Decker explained. “They’re an offensive-driven team, so being able to shut that down [was important].”

The Jumbos will face the University of New England on Nov. 27 in their home opener at Cousens Gymnasium following the Thanksgiving holiday. 

“[The focus] is just going to be coming in ready after the break and just making sure we’re locked in,” Decker said. “We closed a chapter before Thanksgiving, and we’ll be opening one back up, so [we want to] start it very strong.”

Paquette added that the break will serve as an opportunity to consider the start of the season and the desired trajectory of the team.

“It’s just taking time to reflect on what we’ve been doing well and what we need to do better moving forward because we have a lot of big games coming up,” she said. “Just making sure we’re grounded and ready to keep going.”

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