The goal coming into the 2009-2010 basketball season for the West Chester University Lady Rams was to repeat as division champions and try to win their first ever PSAC Championship. The season, filled with many ups and downs, did not go as planned but ended in exhilarating fashion.On March 2, in the quarterfinals of the PSAC tournament, the Lady Rams (19-10) traveled to Pucillo Gymnasium to face division rival, PSAC East Champion and the No. 23 ranked team in the country – Millersville University. West Chester came into the game having lost two games in a row to the Marauders during the regular season. But the Lady Rams took Millersville to two overtimes and pulled out a very hard fought 83-77 victory to give the Marauders their first loss at home during the season.
“Right now it’s the best [game we’ve played] because this is a really good group of seniors,” head coach Deirdre Kane said. “Everybody in sports always says that they should have no regrets. This win here erased a lot of the regrets we would have had.”
“It’s hard to beat a good team three times in a row, and coach had a good game plan,” senior co-captain Natalie Winters said. “We played well as a team in certain situations, and I think we played pretty well as a team tonight.”
“We came into this game with nothing to lose because we knew this was it,” sophomore guard Allison Hostetter said. “So, if we lost we were done and we didn’t want to be done.”
Millersville held the lead the entire first half as they were up by as many as eight points. The Maruaders led 28-24 at the half. Hostetter led West Chester with six points in the first half, while Ashley Moyer led Millersville with 10 points, including two three-pointers made.
In the second half, the game began to turn in the Lady Rams favor. Led by junior Megan Stewart and Hostetter, West Chester tied the game within the first two minutes of the half. The Marauders answered right back and pushed their lead to a game-high 10 points with 11 minutes remaining.
Late in the second half, the Lady Rams called upon their senior leadership to get back into the game. With seven and a half minutes left in the game, Winters played like someone who didn’t want her career to end on the night.
“You don’t get that open too many times when you are playing against Millersville,” Winters said. “So, when you do, you got to knock them down. I was feeling pretty good out there. So, I just kept shooting.”
Winters hit two free throws, sank back-to-back three-pointers and converted a layup off of a Millersville turnover to go on a personal 10-0 run to give West Chester their first lead of the game at 53-50 with 5:47 left.
“[Natalie Winters] came off the bench and gave us a big spark,” Hostetter said. “I remember when I was first recruited here watching her play, and I was just like, ‘Dang that girl is good. She proved that again tonight.”
“I think she finally just relaxed and played after about 12 years in the program,” Kane said. “It seems like she has been here that long.
“She’s been here 12 years, right?” Kane joked. “She is still ‘Baby ‘Nat’ to us, and she is realizing that this is just a basketball game, and I just have to play, catch and shoot.”
The Lady Rams opened up their largest lead of the game as they were up by nine following a Stewart three-pointer with 3:11 left in the second half. But the Marauders answered right back and tied the game at 64 as Racquel Green hit two free throws with three seconds left.
“I knew that a nine-point lead wasn’t safe,” Hostetter said. “If you remember what we just did to [Shippensburg], we came back. We erased a lead in two minutes that was 10 points. That lead is never secure when you get into the playoffs, and it’s a rival like West Chester versus Millersville.”
The first overtime period went back and forth as both teams held slim leads. Millersville held a two-point lead with three seconds left, but West Chester’s outstanding freshman Alex Lennon came up with the play of her young career.
Lennon found herself wide open underneath the basket as Stewart was able to find her after receiving the ball on the inbounds. Lennon calmly laid it in as time expired to tie the game at 71 and send the game into a second overtime.
“Thank God there’s no instant replay in Division II right now,” Hostetter said. “But, she definitely got it off. I feel like we just became together as a team.”
The Lady Rams had gained all the momentum heading into the second overtime and were able to pull away from the top seeded Marauders. Great free throw shooting in the second overtime period helped West Chester come away with the victory.
“I am glad I had all of the good free-throw shooters in the game,” Kane said. “As a coach, you want your best free throw shooters on the floor, that is why we were subbing in and doing what we were doing.”
Hostetter led three Lady Rams in double figures with a career high 21 points. She added 10 rebounds. Winters finished with 17 points and Stewart finished with 12 points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals.
“I really [didn’t] want my senior year to end,” Winters said. “I wanted to keep playing and make the best of it.”
“People kept stepping up and making big plays,” Kane said.
In the PSAC semifinals against the California University (Pa.) Vulcans, West Chester’s season came to an end as they fell 81-63. It was the third consecutive season that the Lady Rams fell in the semifinals while California advanced to their tenth consecutive conference final.
West Chester continued with the momentum they had from the victory over Millersville by scoring six quick points to jump out ahead of the Vulcans. But California scored seven consecutive points of their own led by All-American Brooque Williams to gain their first lead of the game.
The Vulcans extended their lead to as many as 16 points by the end of the half. California shot 50 percent from the field as Williams led the way with 13 first half points. The Vulcans also had 14 assists on their 18 made baskets, while the Lady Rams shot 31.4 percent from the field and assisted on six of 11 made baskets.
In the second half, after California had built up a 20-point lead, West Chester showed the heart and desire that has carried them the entire season. The Lady Rams went on a 17-6 run to cut the Vulcan lead to nine points. Winters, Lennon, Stewart and Jill Keefer all contributed in the run as the defensive pressure began to affect California.
“I thought we had some momentum going when we cut it to nine and they called timeout,” Winters said. “But, they came out of that timeout strong and just put the hammer down on us. We were excited, we knew we could run with this team.”
The Vulcans answered back and began to pull away late in the second half. The seniors for West Chester, Garber, Neal, Winters and Bridget Carlin, were able to leave the game together as Kane substituted for them at the same time.
In her final collegiate game, Winters finished with 15 points and five assists. Keefer scored a team-high 16 points. Garber finished her career with 11 points and four rebounds. Stewart finished the game with 10 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals. Neal finished with seven points, six rebounds and four steals in her final collegiate game.
“Stay positive, encourage everyone through tough times,” Winters offered for her younger teammates. “There are going to be ups and downs throughout the season. Stay positive and keep each other up. It’s all about chemistry and team bonding.”
Rookie of the Year: Alex Lennon. The freshman phenom for West Chester didn’t begin playing until January. She finished with a team-high 39 blocks on the season while playing in 21 games.
Sixth Man of the Year: Jill Keefer. The second year player, who was normally called upon first off the bench for Coach Ka
ne, finished fifth on the team averaging 7.6 points per game. She shot a team-high 86.7 percent from the free throw line for the season. Keefer finished second on the team with 53 steals as she was a force on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.
Defensive Player of the Year: Megan Stewart. The third year started finished first on the team with 96 steals on the season. A lot of her steals came in big situations, which allowed her to help the team come away with much needed victories.
Offensive Player of the Year: Renata Neal. The senior forward, who became a starter for the first time in her career, finished second on the team with 10.8 points per game. She led the team with 134 made baskets on the season. Neal also had a team-high 83 offensive rebounds.
Most Valuable Player: Janelle Garber. The senior captain led the team with 11 points per game and finished second on the team averaging 5.5 rebounds per game. She also finished tied second on the team with 35 blocks and fifth on the team with 36 steals.
Coach of the Year: Deirdre Kane. Coach Kane finished her 23rd season roaming the sidelines for the Lady Rams. On Dec. 2 West Chester delivered Kane her 400th career victory in an 84-69 victory over Philadelphia University.
LJ Harrell is a fourth-year student majoring in Marketing. He can be reached at LH639694@wcupa.edu.