The evening didn’t go quite as planned, as the Fordham women’s basketball team awaited its seed, opponent and destination for this weekend’s NCAA tournament. But even an unfortunate early leak of the bracket couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of Stephanie Gaitley‘s squad and a gathering of fans, friends and family for the Selection Show Watch Party at Rose Hill on Monday night. (Thanks to some quick thinking by the Fordham staff and coaches, they were able to avoid spoiling the surprise for the players until—almost—the right time.)
It was, in effect, a celebration of what has already been accomplished—a 12-game win streak, 25-8 record, Atlantic 10 Regular Season and Tournament Championships, the latter providing the automatic bid to the Rams’ second NCAA tournament—and the realization that there’s another huge opportunity ahead when the #14 seeded squad takes on #3 Syracuse (24-8, ranked #12/#14) at the Carrier Dome on Saturday at 1 p.m. on ESPN2.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but I feel like we have a real chance,” Gaitley said following the celebration. “They play zone, just like the men, and if we shoot well and play the way we are capable of, we can win.”
The support of those in attendance at the selection party was not lost on the Rams players, who were among the few left on campus during Spring Break.
“I’ve never been a part of something like this, so I didn’t know what to expect,” said star guard Bre Cavanaugh, a first team All-Atlantic 10 performer. “But it’s so great to have everyone come out tonight.”
Before the “official” announcement of the Rams’ placement in the Portland Region, senior captains Lauren Holden and Mary Goulding (also a First Team A-10 selection) addressed the assembly, along with Coach Gaitley, Director of Athletics David Roach and University President Joseph M. McShane, who noted the pride that he and the entire Fordham community have in the team’s accomplishments on and off the court. WFUV had continuing live coverage and the athletic department brought fans closer with a Facebook Live session throughout.
Then, when the ESPN Selection Show broadcast flashed Fordham vs. Syracuse on the screen, the gym erupted as the broadcast switched to the celebration for the national audience to see, along with recognition of a fun dance video the team and Coach Gaitley released a few days ago. It’s a night attendees and the team won’t soon forget.
“I was really excited,” said sophomore guard Kendell Heremaia, one of three New Zealand natives on the Rams. “Everyone else knew who we we were playing but we didn’t, so that made it more exciting. I’ve never experienced this before.”
The Rams rolled through UMass, host Duquesne and VCU in the A-10 tournament last week, capped by a 62-47 win in the final on Sunday. Goulding was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and was joined by Cavanaugh on the All-Championship team. It’s the second NCAA Tournament appearance and sixth postseason trip for the Rams in Coach Gaitley’s eight years at the helm, during which she has amassed a school-record 169 wins. Two members of the 2014 squad that earned the first postseason berth in more than 20 years, Sam Clark and Abigail Corning, are on this year’s staff.
If Fordham is able to defeat Syracuse on Saturday, the Rams would take on the winner of sixth-seeded South Dakota State (26-6) vs. #11 Quinnipiac (26-6), on Monday. The Jackrabbits and Bobcats play at 11:15 a.m. on Saturday. That winner advances to the Sweet 16 in Portland, Ore., on March 29 and 31.