By Brandon Scalea
One of the most improbable runs in women’s college basketball this season came to an end on March 6, as Rider fell to top-seeded Quinnipiac in its first MAAC title game appearance in program history.
Picked 10 out of 11 teams in the conference preseason poll, the Broncs won 22 regular season games and posted a 16-4 record in MAAC play. They finished just a game behind the Bobcats for the MAAC regular-season title. Rider will accept the conference’s automatic bid to the program’s first Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT).
Senior forward Julia Duggan said the team is excited to play more basketball, but is obviously disappointed it won’t be in the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re going to look to play the way we did in the MAAC Tournament and show everyone we were a legit team this year,” she said. “It’s cool because it’ll give us a banner to hang in our gym at the end of the season. It’s obviously not the banner we wanted, but it’ll be a nice way to commemorate this great year we had.”
En route to the MAAC Championship, the second-seeded Broncs earned a first-round bye, defeated Monmouth for the third time this season in the quarterfinals and got revenge on Fairfield, a team that swept the Broncs this year, to advance to the championship game.
In the semifinal against the Stags, it was an ugly game, but Rider was able to grind it out and advance. Duggan solidified her spot on the MAAC All-Tournament team with her fifth-straight double-double. She notched 15 points and 20 rebounds and was key in an 18-2 run that pulled the Broncs back in front late in the second half. Her rebound total in the game was the second-highest in tournament history. Junior guard Kamila Hoskova and sophomore guard Lexi Posset each added 11 points in the 49-36 win. The game was such an offensive struggle that Rider notably led 10-2 after the first quarter.
The win set the Broncs up for a third showdown with Quinnipiac, another team whom the Broncs didn’t beat in the regular season. The Bobcats, who fell in last year’s MAAC final, have played in the last three championship games. This time around, the team from Hamden, Connecticut, wasn’t interested in leaving Albany, New York without an NCAA bid. The team defeated Rider by a final count of 81-73.
In the first quarter, the Broncs seemed charged-up, as they jumped to an early 15-5 lead and stifled the Bobcats’ normally prolific offense. One of the keys to Quinnipiac’s turnaround was its ability to grab offensive rebounds. The Bobcats clawed back and ended up taking a one-point lead into halftime, 30-29.
In the third quarter, Rider’s Cinderella carriage began to turn back into a pumpkin.
“I think a big turning point was when I picked up my second foul,” Duggan said. “They were able to capitalize on it and for some reason, we just really struggled in the third.”
Despite leading by double-digits early, Rider found itself trailing by 11 heading into the final 10 minutes of regulation. The Bobcat lead grew to as high as 15 in the fourth.
With the game seemingly out of reach with less than three minutes left, the Broncs went on a 9-0 tear to cut the score to 72-68, thanks in large part to a big and-one from Duggan. Unfortunately for them, it was just too little too late. Quinnipiac made its free throws down the stretch, and escaped with an eight-point win.
Duggan said the loss hurt, but it doesn’t take anything away from the season Rider had.
“This was a special team because everyone contributed,” she said. “There wasn’t one person who carried us, it was always a team-effort. I feel really good about where this program is heading.”
On March 3, senior guard Robin Perkins, who did not play in the MAAC Tournament because of an injured foot, was named MAAC Player of the Year. She was the first player in team history to earn that honor. Head Coach Lynn Milligan was also named unanimous Coach of the Year.