SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Skidmore women’s basketball team’s Liberty League championship victory over Ithaca College last Sunday is significant in more ways than one.
Having lost to the Bombers during their two regular season contests, the Thoroughbreds got some payback by defeating them 54-52 for the league title, ending a run of three straight championships by Ithaca.
“Honestly, it was pretty unbelievable,” said Skidmore coach Jessica Turner, who took over the program ahead of the 2018-19 season. “Ithaca is a really, really good team. They’re nationally ranked, a strong opponent and the hardest test we’ve had up until this point.”
“Obviously playing against any team in the league championship is an honor, but we kind of had it out for them,” junior forward Julia Blanck said of the Thoroughbreds’ desire to face Ithaca a third time. “We really wanted another shot to beat them after getting beat twice. Doing it in the championship [game] made it that much more special.”
The win also clinched Skidmore’s first NCAA Division III Tournament berth since 2017-18 season, which was the last year the Thoroughbreds came out on top of the Liberty League.
“Honestly, I don’t think this is even something a lot of us thought we would get to,” Blanck said of reaching the NCAA Tournament. “We didn’t think it was even a possibility. We were just so focused on our league play and getting to the championship, then here comes this amazing opportunity that’s adding into the excitement of everything else.”
Skidmore is scheduled to face Johns Hopkins University in the first round on Friday on the campus of Tufts University at 4 p.m. Tufts will face Merchant Marine, with the winners slated to meet in the second round of the tournament on Saturday.
The Thoroughbreds own an overall record of 22-5 this season and 16-2 in conference play — their only league losses coming to Ithaca.
The Bombers received an at-large bid to the tournament as the Liberty League’s runner-up.
“We knew the regional rankings, and that if we didn’t win the championship, that could’ve been the end of our season,” Blanck said. “We had to win that game. Hopefully, we have a few more games in front of us and we still might see them again.”
If it’s in the cards for Skidmore and Ithaca to meet a fourth time this season, that wouldn’t happen until the field of 64 teams is cut down to the Final Four.
Skidmore advanced to the Liberty League championship game by defeating Vassar 77-66 in the semifinals.
The Thoroughbreds grew a healthy lead over the first three periods against Ithaca, extending it to 13 points early in the fourth quarter. The Bombers’ offense went on a run to cut their deficit to just one point with 24 seconds remaining in the game, but Skidmore was able to hang on to claim the title.
“We fought until the end,” Turner said. “The days leading up to Vassar and to Ithaca, it felt different. The atmosphere at practice was different. The focus was intensified, and you could tell how much they wanted it.”
Turner and Dariah Duncan, Skidmore’s assistant coach, received Liberty League Coaching Staff of the Year honors. Blanck was also named to the conference’s first team, leading the league in blocks (54) and rebounds (242). She’s also Skidmore’s leading scorer, averaging 8.3 points-per-game.
Madison Meyer, a freshman who graduated from Duanesburg High School, has found her role on the team on the defensive end. Although she averages just 12.2 minutes per game, she’s earned a team-leading 39 steals.
“When you go from a lower level of high school basketball to college, it’s really intense and honestly, it’s kind of scary,” Meyer said. “If there’s anything you can always take pride in, though, it’s always your defense. I’ve always loved the look on people’s faces when you steal the ball from them.”
Meyer has made the transition from playing in the NYSPHSAA Class C final four last season with the Eagles to playing for a Liberty League championship and about to experience the NCAA Tournament.
“After going to the final four last year, there’s definitely a determination and a craving to want more than I’ve ever had before,” she said. “Coming from a winning program, it raised my expectations for who I wanted to be as a player and everyone who I play around.
“My Dad texted me, [writing], ‘This is the big dance, are you ready for the dance?’ I was like, ‘We’re ready for the dance.’”