It shouldn’t have taken this long for the women’s basketball team to win its first conference title.
In its six years in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, Chapman has made the playoffs every season, finishing second five times and third once after the regular season. In five of those six years, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) finished first atop the conference standings.
Before this year, Chapman was 0-for-3 in the conference championship game, losing twice to CMS. CMS had won the last four conference championships, dating back to the 2013-14 season.
If you ask any Chapman player, or head coach Carol Jue, who played and coached at CMS, they’ll tell you how sick they were of losing to CMS.
“I think I was an angry woman for a year,” Jue said about Chapman’s loss to CMS in last year’s championship game.
Chapman finally ended that run. The Panthers won a game on CMS’s home court for the first time since the 2013-14 season. CMS players watched as their own nets were cut down by Chapman players, and Jue wore the net around her neck like a championship medal.
“I think the monkey is off our back, finally,” Jue said.
It’s hard to say why this season was different for Chapman.
Maybe it was the brand-new red dress Jue bought to “power” her team in the championship. Maybe it was the pristine shirt she brought from Chapman’s last NCAA tournament appearance in the 2013-14 season. Jue said she was trying to bring her positive superstitions to the title game.
It could have even been the crowd, populated by the track and field teams – which Jue said outnumbered the home CMS crowd. Maybe the team bonding sessions held before the season provided the team with extra trust in one other.
It was probably a combination of all of these things – even the superstitions – coupled with Chapman’s system of full-court defensive pressure. It wore CMS down, despite an enormous size and rebounding disadvantage.
In addition to sophomore guard Maya Love – the leading rebounder in the conference – CMS had four players 6 feet or taller. None of Chapman’s players are taller than 5-foot-11. Thanks to this advantage, Chapman was outrebounded by 25 in the championship game.
In a previous column, I warned that, for Chapman to beat CMS in a title match, it would have to find a way to compensate for the size disadvantage, and it did: by outshooting CMS from the field, the free throw and three-point lines and by getting key steals in double overtime.
Chapman is a team that plays with nonstop energy, selfless passing and a positivity that’s rare at any level of basketball. The team has already played the No. 1 team in the country in Amherst College and its beaten its nagging rival.
That gameplan and experience is why Chapman stands a chance against any team it will face in the NCAA Division III tournament, even if, as Jue said is likely, Chapman plays on the road.
Chapman does need a little luck in its draw. In the 2006-07 season, Chapman had to travel to Brownwood, Texas, a town of about 20,000 people, to play Howard Payne University. The main attraction was a Wal-Mart, Jue said, and 4,356 people showed up to the game, setting a DIII postseason record for attendance at the time. Jue said the experience was incredible, but Chapman lost by 39 points.
If Chapman can avoid a similar situation, it will have a shot at a win.