The Collegian
Thursday, December 08, 2022

Women's basketball looking for NCAA berth

Sophomore Brittani Shells (20)
Sophomore Brittani Shells (20)

The University of Richmond women's basketball team will play its final conference game against the Saint Louis Billikens at the Robins Center on senior day at 2 p.m. on March 1.

Even with an Atlantic 10 Conference tournament berth already secured, the Spiders will be focused on setting the record straight against a team that they have not beaten during the previous three match-ups.

Last season, at St. Louis, the Billikens beat the Spiders 66-55 by taking the lead with 3:08 left in the game. At the time, coach Michael Shafer attributed the loss to his team's youthfulness.

This time, with only two graduating seniors, Johanna McKnight and Augustina Zygaite, the team is still relatively inexperienced.

But the Spiders have made their best start to a season since 2004, with a 17-7 overall record and 5-4 in-conference record. That may be attributable to a new kind of energy present on the team.

Freshmen Abby Oliver and Joyous Tharrington said they came into a team that was taking steps to change its mindset and character.

Tharrington described the team's new motto, CHIPS, which stands for competitive, hard working, invested, pride and sacrifice. That was something Shafer wanted and expected from the team, she said.

Shafer said he was extremely proud of where the team had come, saying it had embraced its challenges and found a way to win despite its inexperience.

But the success hasn't come easily. The team has had to overcome several setbacks, including a season-ending injury for freshman captain Sam Bilney and an injury to leading scorer sophomore Brittani Shells, which caused her to miss several games.

Just 72 hours after both girls suffered their injuries during a loss to Duquesne University, the Spiders showed their season-defining resilience during a win over George Washington University to complete their first season sweep of GW in school history.

"We looked to each other for help when others were down," Shells said, "and even if we hit bumps in the road, we learned to dig deep and find victories."

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The team's success is a testament to all the members of the squad stepping up at important times, Shafer said.

"People on this team have surpassed all expectations," he said.

Heading into the final game, Shells said the Spiders wanted to finish out strong. The ultimate goal, she said, would be to win out the season and get to the NCAA tournament, a feat the team has not achieved since 2005.

"Coach Shafer has emphasized from the beginning of the season that St. Louis is a big game," Oliver said. There would be a lot of emotion for the seniors who were playing their last home game, and the team as a whole was really motivated to win, she said.

"We won't accept losing. Losing is not an option for us right now," junior Crystal Goring said. She said a trip to the NCAAs was something the whole team wanted, and everyone was on board.

Getting through to post-season play "is the reason why you play NCAA college basketball," Shells said. "Come out and support our seniors and be a witness to what's happening within the women's basketball team."

Contact reporter Sarah Blythe-Wood at sarah.blythewood@richmond.edu

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