Of the three unbeaten teams in D3 women’s basketball, two of them, BR-1 Thomas More and BR-11 George Fox squared off against each other in last season’s NCAA Tournament Final. The third, BR-6 Scranton is coming off just their second undefeated regular season, and at 26-0 hold the best season start in Lady Royal history.
The Lady Royals easily disposed of BR-106 Susquehanna in the Landmark Conference semifinals 66-38, led by junior forward Alexis Roman’s 22-point performance. The win moves the top-seed into the Landmark championship game Saturday against BR-95 Catholic.
Despite easily handling the Cardinals in both contests during this year’s conference campaign, the memory of last season still lingers. Catholic came to Scranton last February and left with a 52-51 win to capture the Landmark Conference title.
The sting felt from that loss will certainly be present for the Lady Royals as the two teams take the floor of the John Long Center once again on Saturday, for the Landmark title. Head coach Trevor Woodruff was confident his team won’t be looking beyond this Saturday’s title matchup, "Having lost to Catholic at home in the final last season, our players won't be taking them lightly" said Woodruff.
Scranton is led in the scoring department by Roman, who averages 19 points a game and has led the Lady Royals in scoring in 17 times this season. Meanwhile, junior forward Sarah Payonk is averaging a double-double for the year, coming in at 12.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per contest.
It hasn't just been offense either. Scranton has been just as strong on the defensive end. Their opponents average just 50.8 points per game and have hit just 34 percent from the floor for the year. The Lady Royals have also forced 422 turnovers (a 16.2 turnover per game average).
It would have been hard to imagine Woodruff's first season on the end of the Scranton bench playing out as it has.
Twenty-six straight wins without a loss?
The number one seed in the Landmark Championship; playing to avenge last year’s loss?
A program that Woodruff took over as the team’s third coach in as many years, one would logically assume some adjustment time would be necessary. Talking about this “transition,” coach Woodruff commented, “quickly we were able to build relationships and find a trust level between the team and their third coach in three years. I was hired September 8th so everything had to be sped up. All the credit goes to the team because they already had a successful thing going. Allowing me to come in, join their family and do some things differently shows a great deal of character on their part.”
The the only two seniors on the roster, guards Noelle Alicia and Jaclyn Gantz, have led the charge to keep the young Lady Royals focused on the game at hand. Woodruff credits them with much of their success, "They stay very even keeled, rarely get to high or low emotionally and just focus on the game in front of them. As the season has gone on it would've been easy for them to get caught up in the idea of being undefeated, but they haven't. In my opinion that's a sign of excellent senior leadership and overall team maturity."
So the showdown for the Landmark Championship, and a perfect 27-0 season heading into the NCAA tournament is just a day and a few hours away – 3:00pm at Scranton on Saturday, February 27th to be exact.
And, that is definitely where the Lady Royals' focus will be.