By Glen Farley
Enterprise staff writer
EASTON — Not a whole lot was expected of the Stonehill College women's basketball team when it took part in "Midnight Madness" ceremonies at Merkert Gymnasium back on Oct. 25.
The Skyhawks were picked to finish eighth in the Northeast-10 Conference preseason poll; understandable in the wake of their 13-14 finish to the 2011-2012 season, when a Stonehill team that started two sophomores and two freshmen suffered the first losing season in the history of the program and failed to reach the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row.
"As a matter of fact, that (prediction's) still up on the wall in our locker room," NE-10 Coach of the Year Trisha Brown said Monday. "That helped fuel the fire a little bit when we started the season. We knew we weren't an eighth-place team, but it's how quickly the kids came together and jelled as a young team that really helped us."
It's helped the Skyhawks to a record of 23-4 and the No. 2 seed they'll carry into Friday afternoon's (2:30) NCAA Division 2 East Regional quarterfinal-round matchup with Northeast-10 Conference rival Franklin Pierce (18-10; the Ravens handed Stonehill one of its four losses) at Bentley University's Dana Athletic Center.
Five months later, "Midnight Madness" has given way to "March Madness" on the Stonehill campus.
"After last season," said guard Mary Louise Dixon, a junior co-captain on a team that doesn't have a senior on its 11-player roster, "we were, like, 'There's no way we're having another season like that. We're going to do whatever it takes to get to the NCAAs, to be high seeded in our league and have a good record in general.'"
In retrospect, forward Asia Ewing, the Skyhawks' other junior co-captain, would like to thank all those who voted against her team.
"I think that's the reason we did so well this season," said Ewing. "When we saw that we were ranked eighth, we knew we were better than that. The fact that the league and the people around us didn't think we were good enough to be ranked higher than that just kind of made us say, 'We have nothing to lose. Let's just take this season, get better, do what we can with it and if we work hard we're going to come out on top.' We told the team that from Day One.
According to Brown, who is in her 12th season at Stonehill, the Skyhawks took advantage of a schedule that played to their favor.
Winning their first eight games, six of them at home, the Skyhawks went nearly a month without a loss, their first setback coming at Bentley (66-50) on Dec. 8.
"Being a young team, we had a good schedule to help us," said Brown. "We had quite a few home games early so I think as we went into December we were really feeling good about how quickly the kids were maturing and really coming together.
"I think one of the things that helped us there was the amount of playing time our young kids got last year. Asia and M.L. (Dixon) have played significant minutes since their freshman year and then having Tori Faieta, (sophomore forward) and (sophomore guard) Amy Pelletier play a lot of minutes for us last year really helped us. Their game experience was good despite the fact that they're still young."
Wait 'til next year?
Not the 2012-2013 Skyhawks, who along the way ended NE-10 champion Bentley's pursuit of perfection, handing the Falcons (28-1) a 73-66 setback at Merkert on Feb. 23.
"A bunch of people's reactions (following last season) was, 'It's OK. You've still got two seasons with the same team so this year can be a rebuilding year,'" said Dixon. "I completely refuted it. No way I wanted to use this as a building year."
Instead, this team has rebuilt the winning tradition that dates back to the program's birth under Paula Sullivan (who coached for 25 years), continued under Kelly Hart (five seasons) and has been extended under Brown, who's guided the Skyhawks to eight NCAA bids.
"I think our team deserves the position that we're in," said Ewing. "We're just so excited to be here and be able to prove people wrong. That's kind of been our motto."