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NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball: UMW advances to Sweet 16

BY STEVE DeSHAZO

Seconds after the most important and improbable of Mary Washington’s 29 victories, coach Deena Applebury bear-hugged freshman guard Amanda Witmer. Moments later, senior Claire Brooks hoisted the unlikely heroine.

It was fitting, because one of the least-experienced Eagles had helped carry the team to another week of chasing its first national title.

Witmer, who had scored 32 total points in UMW’s first 28 games, came through with 10 Saturday night as the Eagles overcame a 14-point deficit to edge visiting Messiah (Pa.), 53–50, in the second round of the NCAA Division III tournament.

Fellow freshman Aubrey Howland contributed seven big points for the seventh-ranked Eagles (29–0), who will play in the Sweet 16 round next weekend. They’ll learn their destination on Sunday or Monday.

“Words can’t describe how proud I am of those two,” said senior guard Jenna McRae, who led UMW with 20 points and 11 rebounds. “It was a huge game for me. I can’t imagine how they felt. But they stepped up.”

UMW needed someone to do so after falling behind, 30–16, late in the first half. Methodist (22–6) was running its offense crisply, and the Eagles’ shots weren’t falling—in part because the Falcons’ press was pushing them farther away from the basket than they’d prefer.

In the second half, Applebury turned to Witmer—who hadn’t even played in Friday night’s first-round win over Keuka (N.Y.)—and Howland, and they delivered.

“Amanda has been consistently improving,” Applebury said. “I knew she has confidence, on and off the court. She may make mistakes, but it won’t be for lack of effort or confidence.”

Asked if she was nervous given the circumstances, Witmer immediately replied, “yes.”

“I’d be lying if I said I was expecting [the extended playing time],” said Witmer, who also had three steals. “I was surprised, but I knew I could handle it.

“We always talk about getting an opportunity and giving it everything you’ve got. That’s what I did.”

Witmer’s layup and free throw with 8:04 remaining gave UMW its first lead since 10–9. That capped a 16–2 run that began shortly after Messiah’s all-Commonwealth Conference center, Dori Gyori, went to the bench with three fouls.

“That really bogged us down,” Messiah coach Mike Miller said, “but to be honest, the shots we made in the first half, we didn’t make in the second.”

Nicky Hess did sink a 3-pointer with 1:04 left to put the Falcons back on top, 50–49. But McRae responded with a layup in traffic to regain the lead for UMW.

Hess led Messiah with 14 points. Gyori had 10 points and 11 rebounds, but UMW centers Carol Dye and Claire Brooks forced her into a 4-for-13 shooting night.

Gyori was also called for traveling after a double-team with 11.5 seconds left. McRae hit two free throws with 6.8 seconds remaining, and Taylor Miller’s contested 3-pointer bounced off the rim at the buzzer, sending the Eagles into a frenzy.

It was a completely different story from the night before, when UMW nearly squandered a 21-point halftime lead and held on to win 39–32.

This time, the Eagles responded—but only after staying in the locker room until just before the buzzer sounded to start the second half.

“We knew they weren’t going to blow us out of the water,” said McRae, who had just two points in Friday’s first-round win. “We never feel like we’re going to lose. We always know we can win.”

Scoring

Messiah (22–6): Dori Gyori 10, Kira Maier 8, Nicky Hess 14, Jordan Seiz 2, Taylor Miller 12, Chelsea Danel 0, Kaitlyn Vanderhoff 2, Emily Martz 2. Totals: 20 4–8 50.

Mary Washington (29–0): Aby Diop 3, Carol Dye 4, Jenna McRae 20, Katie Wimmer 9, Sam Partonen 0, Rachel Martin 0, Sarah Jones 0, Amanda Witmer 10, Claire Brooks 0, Brienke Matthes 0, Aubrey Howland 7. Totals: 18 16–25 53.

Halftime: Methodist, 30–20. 3-point goals: Methodist 6 (Hess 4, Miller 2); UMW 1 (Witmer). Rebounds: Methodist 30 (Gyori 10); UMW 35 (McRae 11).

Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443

sdeshazo@freelancestar.com

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