The ladies of St. Francis Brooklyn are going dancing.
The St. Francis Terriers are headed to the NCAA tournament for the first time in the school’s history after they beat Robert Morris 77-62 in Pennsylvania on Sunday to win the Northeast Conference title.
“It is a great feeling,” Sarah Benedetti said. “I always loved being the underdog, and this is the true underdog story. It feels amazing. We have never been in this situation before, but our experience with our four seniors and one junior really builds our team chemistry, and that helps us when we had to make big shots to win the game.”
It was a close first half for the Terriers as they led 32-29 at the midway point, but they turned it on in the second half to pull away.
It was 47-41 with 11:40 remaining when Benedetti drilled a three to go up by nine. Leah Fechko then hit a couple of layups, Eilidh Simpson and Alex Delaney drained back-to-back threes, and Jaymee Veney hit a jumper to give St. Francis a commanding 18-point lead with just under seven minutes to play.
St. Francis shot an incredible 7-for-9 from behind the arc in the second half as a team including a perfect 4-for-4 from Benedetti. Overall the Terriers shot 10-for-17 from deep and were 13-for-14 from the free throw line as they let their hot shooting carry them.
Benedetti had a game-high 29 points with nine rebounds, Simpson and Veney each had 14 points, and Fechko had 13. Point guard Katie Fox had six assists to go with her two points.
Despite the comfortable win, Veney said St. Francis never took for granted that it would win the game.
“You never have a feeling of relief when you play here,” Veney said. “Robert Morris is a great team, and they are always in it. To win on the road and beat such a great team is extremely rewarding.”
This was an incredible win for the Terriers especially considering they started out with a 4-25 overall record four years ago when head coach John Thurston took over the program. With Benedetti, Veney, Simpson, Fox and Coulette Hounshell as its core, they went from a four-win team to the NEC playoffs in their sophomore year. They then set a school wins record their junior year, and now have won it all as seniors.
Despite their annual progression, it didn’t look like the Terriers would take it all this season after a tough non-conference schedule led to a 2-6 start against NEC opponents. The ladies rebounded, though, and won six of their last seven in the regular season and then beat the No. 1 seeded Central Connecticut State University in double-overtime just to reach the final.
Even when things looked bleak, the Terriers always believed in themselves. Part of it was the way they ended last season — a first-round exit from the playoffs after they set the school’s wins record by going 19-11 overall and being one of the best teams in the NEC all season. It left a bad taste in their mouths.
“We want to go dancing,” Fox said prior to the final. “We have been saying it all year, at the end of every practice, we shoot free throws, the last person to make it, we say take us to the NCAA Tournament. It was something we believed we could do all year.”