Women’s Basketball Falls to Notre Dame in Valiant Home Effort

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Women’s Basketball Falls to Notre Dame in Valiant Home Effort

Fordham head coach Stephanie Gaitley and Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw meet before the teams' season opener on Tuesday night. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

Fordham head coach Stephanie Gaitley and Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw meet before the teams' season opener on Tuesday night. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

Fordham head coach Stephanie Gaitley and Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw meet before the teams' season opener on Tuesday night. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

Fordham head coach Stephanie Gaitley and Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw meet before the teams' season opener on Tuesday night. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

Jimmy Sullivan, Sports Editor

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Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Fordham Women’s Basketball. In 2011, head coach Stephanie Gaitley took over a program in disarray; the Rams had won just 11 Atlantic 10 games in the four years before her arrival. Now, six postseason berths and two NCAA Tournaments later, Gaitley’s Rams are a national power, and the team showcased that on Tuesday night.

Fordham fell 60–55 to Notre Dame, the defending national runner-up and 2018 national champion. The Irish entered the 2019–20 season having lost their entire starting five — Jackie Young, Brianna Turner, Marina Mabrey, Jessica Shepard and Arike Ogunbowale — from the season before. If there was a time for Fordham to upset the sixteenth-ranked Irish, it was 7 p.m. on Tuesday night in front of a sold-out crowd at the newly-renovated Rose Hill Gym .

The Rams came tantalizingly close to doing just that.

Fordham struggled to shoot in the first half, and early jitters presented themselves in the form of early turnovers. Junior Kendell Heremaia had five in the first quarter, but settled in to have a nice game in the second half. However, in the first, Muffet McGraw’s Irish were able to get a double-digit lead behind stingy defense and timely shooting from freshman Sam Brunelle. Notre Dame led by as many as 15 points in the second quarter and carried a 12-point lead into the halftime break.

Throughout the second half, though, Fordham refused to go away. 

Fordham chipped away at the double-digit deficit with tight defense and timely offense. The Rams’ inability to convert outside shots was an issue all night; the team was 3-18 (16.7%) in the first half and closed the game with an 8-38 (21.1%) performance from outside. Fordham was down 11 entering the fourth quarter, but started the final frame on a 7-0 run to electrify the audience in the Bronx. Notre Dame soon pushed the lead back to 10, but Fordham went on another 6-0 run to cut the lead back to four. After a series of misses, Kendell Heremaia’s layup with 29 seconds left brought Fordham within three. The Rams got within two with sophomore Kaitlin Downey’s late basket with 11 seconds left, but Notre Dame put the game away with an offensive rebound on a missed free throw by freshman Anaya Peoples.

Fordham, improbably, could have won the game with better shooting. Junior preseason all-conference selection Bre Cavanaugh was 6–22, freshman Anna DeWolfe was 5–16 and Downey was 3–11. That being said, with Fordham’s stars having their offensive struggles, the Rams’ ability to keep the game close with a team that nearly won the national championship the year before shows that Gaitley’s team can play with just about anyone in the country.

And that wasn’t the only positive from Tuesday night, either. Freshmen DeWolfe and Sarah Karpell were extremely impressive, with Karpell winning several possessions defensively for Fordham. Sophomore Meg Jonassen was forced into duty with big minutes down the stretch, as Downey and sophomore Vilisi Tavui both hit major foul trouble. Still, with the inexperience of the Rams, the team didn’t buckle on a big stage. 

The other takeaway of the night was just how far the Fordham program has come in just under a decade. When Gaitley took over the program in 2011, a night like Tuesday night — with a sold out Rose Hill Gym and a national power coming to play — was a pipe dream. In the span of eight years, Tuesday night became a reality, thanks to hard work and a winning culture.

Fordham lost on Tuesday night. In many ways, it’s unclear just how much the Fordham Women’s Basketball program won.