By Kari Condel
Championship week has come and gone, with the DeSales women’s basketball team clinching its 21st consecutive spot in the MAC Freedom postseason tournament. The Bulldogs secured the two seed for the playoffs by winning-out the tiebreaker with King’s College. They defeated King’s 64-44 after opening up the game on a 16-1 run and never looking back. Morgan Brimelin and fellow junior Leandra Sterner led the scoring with 16 and 17 points, respectively, and junior Bridget Walsh pulled down a career-high 18 rebounds in the semifinal victory.
In the championship game at long-standing rival FDU-Florham, the Bulldogs fell to the Devils of FDU-Florham, 76-59, to end their season. The Bulldogs were led by Walsh who finished with her fifth double-double of the season, scoring a career-high 22 points, pulling down 12 rebounds, and blocking five shots. Senior Kaitlin Kelly was the only other Bulldog to finish with double digits scoring 10 points in her final game.
Focus, drive and persistence have been the defining characteristics of this season, as the team never gave up on themselves, each other or their long-term goal: to be victorious above all.
“These girls are my best friends,” said junior guard Birmelin when talking about the team chemistry. The team is young, joined by six freshmen along with two new coaches: assistant coach Caitlin Kessler and graduate assistant Jackie Stewart. Adding to the newness of faces is a sense of commitment, all making their marks very early on in the season and have not let up since. The mix of new with the already established players has brought a balance, allowing the veterans to slide into a role of leadership and accountability as well.
The young team found their stride in their win against the always competitive FDU-Florham. Throughout the full 40 minutes, each player executed their roles perfectly and precisely. Whether their role was to score, to defend or to show support from the bench, the girls brought a sense of excitement and energy both for the sport and for each other. From this moment on was a new team chemistry: one that was built around respect for each other’s commitment and sacrifices.
The Bulldogs defense is what coaches and players alike have been reliant on throughout the season. The emphasis and fine tuning of the defense has brought the team to many victories. Basketball is the epitome of a team sport, requiring all to be in tune both with the game and with each other. Without such a bond, both on and off the court, they would have have achieved so many victories. The defense has been a calling card and the essential strength of the team, carrying the weight when games got difficult or morale was low.
Head coach Fred Richter has been the women’s fearless leader throughout the past 28 seasons. His Bulldogs, since his start in the 1997-98 season, have never missed a postseason tournament. He has also lead DeSales to six MAC Freedom Championships and 10 trips to the NCAA Division III Tournament. This season is no different, as he looks to secure another championship title and have another chance at the national tournament. Richter as a tough and tenacious force at the helm has instilled many principles that have resonated with the team, including toughness, poise,and hard work.
“[The qualities] ha[ve] helped us in games where we have had to overcome adversity or situations that were not going our way. [They] have helped us all in the classroom and with our school work,” stated Birmelin, confirming that these are qualities that the team will continue to focus on in the future.
Hard work is rewarding, and that is something that the team has experienced firsthand. Despite the outcome of this past weekend, excitement and eagerness embody everyone’s attitude looking forward, as the women close one season and start preparing for the next.