Women’s Basketball is “Going Dancing”

Second Consecutive NEC Title Sends Pioneers to March Madness

With 15 straight wins and regular season champions, the number one seed, Sacred Heart University (SHU) women’s basketball, conquered the court for a second year in a row, winning the Northeast Conference (NEC) Championship.

The team faced heavy pressure to meet last year’s ticket to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament as they entered into the quarterfinal game on March 11.

“Pressure, a lot of people shut down at that moment, but not for us, it wakes us up,” said sophomore Ny’Ceara Pryor in a press conference. “We don’t feel the pressure.”

SHU rolled a 78-48 win over eight seed, Saint Francis University (SFU) in the quarterfinal. Pryor had a game-high 23 points along with seven rebounds, four assists and two steals to advance the women into the semifinals.

Head Coach Jessica Mannetti credits her team’s intense connection for their victory over SFU. She said the teams with the strongest bond during the rollercoaster of playoffs are usually the ones that go the furthest.

“What separates us from other teams in the conference is that we are so connected on and off the court,” said graduate student Olivia Tucker.

In the semifinal game against Merrimack College, SHU swept a 73-41 win over the fourth seeded team. Mannetti described Merrimack as one of their biggest rivals and highlighted the women who are not always in the spotlight for their team’s success.

“Olivia Tucker and Sierra Johnson are able to shut down the other team’s best player, but that doesn’t go on the stat sheet,” said Mannetti.

This victory advanced the women into the championship game on March 17 and secured the NEC’s automatic NCAA qualifier spot for March Madness. This makes two consecutive years in this position, but this championship was different as SHU had the home court advantage.

“It’s a totally different feel. We have the best fans, from our dance team, to our cheerleaders, to our band, we couldn’t ask for anyone else,” said Tucker, who hit three straight three-point shots in the semifinals.

Going into the championship game, Mannetti described it as another opportunity for the women to prove they are the best team in the league. This mentality is what she has been feeding to her players all season long. Playing a strong defensive game to disrupt Le Moyne College early on, the Pioneers stole a 69-48 win over the second-seeded team. This game solidified SHU’s women’s basketball team as the back-to-back NEC Champions.

“I am so proud of our team,” said Mannetti. “This environment, which is awesome playing at home, is electric. We have the best fans and the best support system ever.”

The women received their champion title trophy and celebrated their victory with their family and friends, an experience Pryor saw as “indescribable.”

Looking forward to another opportunity in March Madness, the Pioneers are prepared for the challenge. The team has a play in game on March 20 at 7 p.m. against Presbyterian College.

As Pryor said, “It’s March, anything can happen.”

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Assistant Sports Editor

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