NORTH ANDOVER — Trailing by 15 points in the second half, on the road, to Pace on Friday night in the Northeast-10 tournament opening round, it appeared the season was over for Merrimack College women’s basketball.
But if the Warriors have proved anything this season, it’s that turning things around quickly seems to be embedded in their DNA.
The Warriors stormed back, took the game to overtime and ended up with a thrilling 75-70 victory. Two days later, the Warriors walked into Stonehill College – the second seed in the tournament and No. 11 ranked team in Division 2 – and won again.
Tonight, they’ll try to make it three straight upsets when they travel to Worcester to take on No. 6 Assumption (the No. 3 seed) at 7 p.m.
“No one really slept on the bus ride back from Pace,” said second-year head coach Monique LeBlanc. “I know I didn’t get into my bed until about 3:30 and I was up at 7 looking for Stonehill’s game tape ready to get going again. When you have momentum, I don’t think we thought about going to OT or being tired, you just want to get right back out there.”
Not only did the Warriors turn things around against Pace, this entire season has been about turning things around for the program.
After a five win season a year ago, the Warriors are now 19-11. That’s the largest turnaround in Division 2 basketball this season and in the top-10 all time.
The Warriors would likely admit that they aren’t the most talented group on the floor every night, but it’s hard to argue that they’re not the hardest working.
Kelly Schatzlein finished second in the NE-10 in rebounding and Chloe Rothman has taken her game to a new level this postseason, leading the Warriors in both scoring and assists.
“We’ve been loose,” LeBlanc said. “Our practices are intense, but we’re confident. We trust our preparation and that’s afforded us some good basketball recently. We’re not putting too much pressure on the moment. We’re just having fun.”
Despite an early-season surge, things looked bleak as the season was hit the midpoint. In late January, the Warriors began a stretch where they lost six straight and seven of eight games before getting back on track with their current five-game winning streak. Merrimack started the season 12-4.
“We hit that rough stretch and that’s when I think we realized that this is a tough race,” LeBlanc said. “We needed to win at St. Michael’s and at Southern New Hampshire so that we weren’t putting pressure on ourselves those last few games to make the playoffs, and having those situations I think got us prepared for right now.”
The Greyhounds are ranked sixth in the nation. Earlier this season, the Warriors played arguably their worst game inside Assumption’s Laska Gym.
“Everyone involved with our program would agree that it was our worst game,” LeBlanc said. “It was our worst game in a lot of ways. But this whole week our team has been psyched about having the opportunity to go back there again and just show them how we play Merrimack basketball. We want to let them know who we are. We didn’t do that the first time.”
Merrimack’s bread and butter is hard work, using a pressure defense to oftentimes force even the most finely-tuned offenses into mistakes.
“(Assumption) is very disciplined,” LeBlanc said. “We’ll have to use our pressure to force them into mistakes because they don’t make them on their own. There’s a lot of winning tradition there. They’ve been at the top of the league for many years now.”
A win tonight for the Warriors, and the top of the NE-10 may need to make room for another program in the upper echelon.
Merrimack vs. Assumption What: Northeast-10 Semifinals Where: Laska Gym (Assumption) When: Tonight, 7 Can I watch?: Yes. Go to Northeast10.tv for a free web stream Can I go?: Sure. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for info on a fan bus