Women’s Basketball Wins A-10 Championship

Fordham+senior+Mary+Goulding+was+one+of+the+school%27s+athletics+stars+this+past+year.+%28Courtesy+of+Eric+Schelkun%29
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Women’s Basketball Wins A-10 Championship

Fordham senior Mary Goulding was one of the school's athletics stars this past year. (Courtesy of Eric Schelkun)

Fordham senior Mary Goulding was one of the school's athletics stars this past year. (Courtesy of Eric Schelkun)

Fordham senior Mary Goulding was one of the school's athletics stars this past year. (Courtesy of Eric Schelkun)

Fordham senior Mary Goulding was one of the school's athletics stars this past year. (Courtesy of Eric Schelkun)

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By Jack McLoone

Senior forward Mary Goulding was crying. She had just fouled out with a minute left in the Atlantic 10 Championship, to this point the peak of her career.

These were not the tears of a player who had fouled out with her team on the brink of elimination. No, the Rams of Fordham were up 56-43 in the final minute of the game. They were going to win their first A-10 Championship since the 2013-14 season and head to the NCAA Tournament.

To some degree, this felt inevitable. After winning a share of the regular season A-10 title and placing two players on the All-Conference team — Goulding and redshirt sophomore guard Bre Cavanaugh — it isn’t wholly surprising that this team won it all, too, eventually topping the VCU Rams 62-47.

However, just because it felt inevitable at the time doesn’t mean it always was. Of course it wasn’t, what with the fact that teams actually have to play the game.

The Rams of Fordham, as I wrote just two days ago, are about as hot as anyone, having now won 12 straight after burning through everyone in their sights. But things didn’t always look this good. After a strong start to conference play, the Rams dropped back-to-back games, including blowing a 13-point lead against these same VCU Rams and then losing by 22 in their next game against Dayton.

After a loss to Davidson on Jan. 27 — their third in four games — the Rams turned it around, starting their winning streak that will now extend into the NCAA Tournament.

As they have done all season, the Rams succeeded through their defense. The ninth-ranked scoring defense held VCU in check over and over again, including two separate droughts without a field goal for over five minutes apiece. Fordham forced 18 turnovers, while committing just eight, and scored 16 points off the turnovers.

Fordham actually started this game down 4-0 after a pair of free throws and a basket for VCU. Cavanaugh got them on the scoreboard with a three — her only make from deep on the day — and then Goulding hit a layup with 6:11 left to put Fordham up 5-4. While it remained tightly contested for almost the rest of the game, the Rams of Fordham never trailed again.

Things seemed a little dire towards the end of the first half, however. The VCU Rams were starting to wake up, narrowing the Fordham Rams’ lead down all the way to just two. But a three from freshman forward Kaitlyn Downey and a pair of free throws from Cavanaugh pushed the lead up to seven before the half.

The third quarter was a classic adjustment stalemate, with neither side getting much done offensively and coming out the otherside having scored just eight points apiece to enter the fourth quarter with Fordham up 38-31.

As they have for the majority of this stretch of success, the Rams were able to rely on Goulding and Cavanaugh. They combined for 20 of Fordham’s 24 fourth-quarter points to put away VCU and claim the crown.

The two scored 41 of the Rams’ 62 points, Cavanaugh with 22 and Goulding with 19, for the second time in a row.

Goulding had even more to be happy about. After turning in easily the finest season of her career, one that has often been derailed by injury, she turned it on in the Rams’ three postseason games, averaging 20.7 points per game and 6.7 rebounds per game. She did so incredibly efficiently, shooting 57.5 percent from the field, including 56 percent from three, and hitting all of her free throws. Plus, the trademark Mary Goulding hard-nosed, gritty defense and effort. For all of that, she was named the A-10 Championship Most Outstanding Player.

Cavanaugh was also named to the All-Tournament team.

Also worth mentioning is the defense of sophomore guard Kendell Heremaia, who turned in one of the best defensive performances of her career on her biggest stage yet. Head coach Stephanie Gaitley and company have spent a lot of time working on her much-beleaguered defense in her two years at Rose Hill, and it all showed yesterday.

For Goulding and fellow senior Lauren Holden, this is another peak in careers that have seen the Rams make the postseason for three seasons straight, but are heading to the NCAA Tournament for their first times. This will be Fordham Women’s Basketball’s third trip to the NCAA Tournament, and second under Gaitley.

It’s been an amazing road for this Fordham women’s basketball team, and it still has at least one more step. According to ESPN bracketologist Chris Creme, the Rams can, as of this writing, expect a 15 seed and a trip to Iowa City, though they will have to wait a week until the selection show next Monday, March 18 to find out for sure.

But all that matters is that they know they are in. The rest will come later.

Now and forever, the Rams are A-10 Champions.