Under the lights of Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., the Fairfield University women’s basketball team strode past Iona College, Niagara University and Manhattan College to take home the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title.
For the fourth time in their history, Fairfield University’s women’s basketball team was able to hoist the MAAC trophy, according to the official recap of the championship game against Manhattan College. This is the first time that the Stags have brought home the MAAC championship since 1998.
With this victory in the MAAC championship, the Stags looked to continue their success in the National Collegiate Athletic Association March Madness tournament, where they were pitted against fellow Division I universities that all found success this season.
In a single-elimination tournament, the number of participating programs was cut in half with each round until one winner is finally decided. The tournament’s matchups are based on seeding and region, per usual (the highest seeded team will face the lowest seeded team first, so on and so forth).
To begin the tournament, Fairfield (who was seeded #15) took on the University of Texas at Austin (seeded #2), who hosted their own game as well as another between the University of Utah vs. the University of Arkansas.
Texas held a 26-6 record this season according to the official bracket from ncaa.com. Fairfield, on the other hand, had a 25-6 record according to the same website. Although the records of the two programs are nearly identical, Texas plays in the Big 12 conference against different competitors than Fairfield, who represents the MAAC.
Interestingly, the Stags and Longhorns have never clashed with each other. This was the first time that Fairfield and Texas squared off against each other in women’s basketball.
Fairfield’s success has not come easy; according to redshirt senior Callie Cavanaugh, focus is the main pillar that keeps the team moving forward. “There are many distractions off the court, but when we get onto the court, we are serious about our game,” Cavanaugh stated.
“Our team’s cohesiveness has also helped us achieve a lot of success,” Cavanaugh continued. “With seven seniors on the squad, there has been a lot of leadership and accountability throughout the season.”
Senior Lou Lopez-Senechal felt the same way as her teammate.
“Throughout the three games we played, whether the team was up or down, everyone was on the same page and the energy was on point,” she stated. “We always believed we could win it all so we stuck together no matter what.”
With the usual starting five made up of mostly graduate students and seniors (consisting of Lopez-Senechal, Cavanaugh, Rachel Hakes ‘22, Andrea Hernangomez ‘22, and graduate student Sydney Lowery), the team holds a lot of leadership from the long-time members of the team.
The women’s basketball team had to jump over a few hurdles to get to Atlantic City, and, eventually Texas.
With the tournament being held in Atlantic City, it was easy to be distracted.
On a personal level, Cavanaugh stressed the importance of making the next play. “I tend to put extra pressure on myself after missing a shot or messing up a defensive possession,” Cavanaugh said. “However, as the season progressed, I realized that even the best players make mistakes, and it was up to me to decide whether I wanted to let that mistake influence me or go on to the next play.”
This was important to the level of play that the team needed to show in Texas during the Round of 64. In the game against Manhattan that punched the Stags’ ticket to the tournament, Cavanaugh produced nine points, showing her leadership on the court.
Lopez-Senechal knew that being double digits against Manhattan College in the MAAC finals would be difficult to overcome. However, with the team’s experiences over the season, rallying against the competition came more naturally.
“Obviously, it was not the way we wanted to start the game, but we knew how to come back,” Lopez-Senechal stated. “We have been in similar situations during the season so it was not new to us.”
Although the competition may be much tougher in the March Madness tournament, members of the team have understood the excitement of the moment. “We’ll have to fight our way to the top because the competition is ten times higher. As serious as we must take this game, I believe it is also time to relax and enjoy the moment,” Cavanaugh pointed out. “Few people can say they were able to participate in March Madness.”
Lopez-Senechal felt the same way. “We are going to play our game like we did all year long and do our best to come out with a win. Personally, I want to have a good time with my teammates and enjoy the game,” she said. “I am very excited to play against one of the best teams in the country but I won’t change my game, I will be me and be the best competitor I can be.”
On Friday, March 18, 2022, Fairfield’s season came to a close as the University of Texas at Austin bested them in the Round of 64 by a score of 70-52 according to the official box score.
The Stags were able to keep the Longhorns within a handful of points for most of the game besides when the home team began to break away in the second quarter.
On the court, Lopez-Senechal scored 17 points, the most out of her and her teammates. She went down with an apparent injury towards the beginning of the game but re-entered shortly afterwards. Cavanaugh and Hakes were not far behind, with ten points apiece; unfortunately, the scoring by the Stags was not enough to lasso the Longhorns.
The memorable 2021-22 season for the Stags has finally come to a close with their early exit in the March Madness tournament. Although the season is over, the legacy of this squad will be remembered throughout Fairfield University.
“Being a part of this team means a lot to me. I am truly grateful to play at this level in the United States, something I did not expect years ago,” Lopez-Senechal said. “I see them as family, not just teammates.”
“We have accomplished so much this year together and I am very proud of this group. Winning the MAAC championship with this team will link us up for the rest of our life and it is a very special feeling,” Lopez-Senechal continued.
“We are only as good as our weakest link, coach often says,” Cavanaugh stated. “But I also believe that being a part of this team entails not only a dedication to basketball, but also to a lifelong sisterhood.”
As the book is closed on this season, the Stags will look to make an even deeper run next year. With head coach Joe Frager retiring, they will look to reinvent themselves under a new coach, one who will ideally lead them to another MAAC championship and into another March Madness tournament.
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