Women’s Basketball Falls, Waits for WNIT


The Rams are hopeful to host multiple WNIT games. Courtesy of Andrew Esoldi
The Rams are hopeful to host multiple WNIT games. Courtesy of Andrew Esoldi

By Matt Rosenfeld

The 2014 Atlantic 10 tournament provided Fordham’s women’s basketball team the run of a lifetime. Three days, three wins, A-10 champions. Fordham was dancing for just the second time in the program’s history. 2015 would be a different story.

As the four-seed in this year’s conference tournament, Fordham knew this year would be more of an uphill battle than the last. For starters, the team was never supposed to reach the top four of the conference. The Rams were picked to finish fifth in the preseason, having lost their two biggest contributors from last season, Erin Rooney and Abigail Corning.

“When you think about the injuries we had at the start of the year,” head coach Stephanie Gaitley said. “Not knowing what we were going to get from [graduate transfer Tiffany Ruffin], losing Erin and Abigail, there are so many things that could have affected this team and they just stayed together. If you would have told me we would be the four seed three months ago, I would have said you were crazy.”

Yet there they were, 11-5 in conference play and a guaranteed place in the quarterfinals. Just three wins away from back-to-back conference titles and NCAA Tournament appearances.

In the first game of the tournament, the Rams defeated Richmond 46-45 in its second nail biter of the year with the Spiders. Just two wins away.

But this year, top-seeded George Washington, who was ranked No. 19 in the nation, was too much for the resilient Fordham squad. The Colonials ended the Rams’ championship defense 72-60 Saturday afternoon on their way to their own A-10 Championship.

“[George Washington] is a great team,” senior captain Emily Tapio said of the 2015 A-10 champions. “They have a lot of weapons and they have a lot of depth on their roster. They have a lot of size on us as well. Especially when we experience foul trouble, it’s hard to stay with them.”

In its first game of the conference season, Fordham hosted Richmond. The Rams would prevail 65-64 in an overtime thriller thanks to a game-winning three pointer from freshman Danielle Padovano. This time around, the game would not have the scoring of the previous affair, but would be a thriller nonetheless.

Fordham started the game on a 12-2 run spanning the first eight minutes of the game. However, as it has at many points of the season, Fordham’s offense then went cold. A combination of poor shooting and turnovers resulted in Richmond mounting a comeback, tying the game at 20 with just under five minutes left in the first half.

Shockingly, neither team would score for the remainder of the half, which saw the Rams going into the locker room having scored just eight points in over 12 minutes of play.

“We were just so focused on the defensive end,” Tapio said. “And we weren’t used to shooting on those rims at all. That can happen a lot in a tournament, where you’re just not used to the court or the rims.”

The Spiders jumped out to a 27-20 lead after a quick seven point run to start the half. Seeing its season on the line, Fordham turned it on themselves. The Rams came back with a 16-4 run of their own, led by Tapio with six points.

Following the theme of the game, Fordham’s lead would not hold. Richmond roared back, and all of a sudden two Spider free throws tied the game at 45 with 10 seconds remaining.

Enter Taryn Durant. The senior guard, known for her defense, drove for the hoop and the game-winning bucket, only to be fouled. She’d shoot two free throws with one second remaining. Durant, who had scored only 43 points on the season, sank the first shot, which was enough to send the Rams through to the next round.

“[Taryn] deserved it,” Tapio said. “She’s someone who is not usually on the court at that time, and she really got a chance to shine. She did a great job. I give her all the credit.”

George Washington was the powerhouse in the conference all season. The Colonials entered the A-10 Tournament having lost only three games on the season, only one in conference (to Saint Louis) and had won 25 of its last 26 games, including an 83-65 win over Fordham in Washington D.C. just three weeks prior.

Fordham’s offense was clicking early, a good sign if it wanted to beat George Washington. In its three losses this year, the Colonials have surrendered at least 70 points each time. The Rams had a 19-15 lead midway through the first half, but then gave up a 12-0 run to George Washington and trailed by eight. The Colonials would head into halftime with a lead of the same margin.

As Fordham tried to hang tough, George Washington proved too much to handle. The top-seeded team continued to hit shots from the field as well as get to the free throw line and extend its lead to 17 with 10 minutes to play in the game.

The Rams would scratch and claw to get back into the game, but would not be able to cut the lead to any less than eight in the final minutes of the contest. George Washington moved onto the final, and the title defense was dead.

“Obviously, we’re all disappointed,” Tapio said. “But Coach made a good point in saying that we have a chance to do something special and hang another banner for the NIT, so the energy around the team is good.”

Fordham finishes the season 20-11, and now await a possible invitation to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. The team last reached the WNIT in the 2012-2013 season, when the Rams lost to St. Joseph’s in the A-10 Championship game. In the WNIT, Fordham went 2-1, with wins over Army and Boston University, losing to James Madison in the Round of 16. Fordham finished its regular and post season schedule 24-7 that year.

The Rams will know their postseason fate on Monday, March 16.