Cailey Gibson, a Griffins sophomore, eyes up a jumper. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

The women of Chestnut Hill College were able to head into their Christmas break with a winning record, fighting off a second-half challenge from visiting Holy Family University last Tuesday evening to win the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference clash, 73-70.

Raising their overall record to 7-6, the victory gave the Griffins a 3-1 record within the CACC.

“We’re in a good spot, especially when you look at who we’ve played,” commented third-year CHC head coach Mike West. “This year we really tried to challenge our team with a tough non-conference schedule. That’s part of the growing process.”

Leading by as many as 15 points late in the first half last Tuesday, Chestnut Hill fell behind the visiting Tigers in the third quarter. Late in the fourth period the Griffins finally went ahead for good following a 68-68 tie, but they couldn’t really relax until the final horn.

Although Holy Family returned to Northeast Philly at 1-10 overall and 0-4 in conference play, CHC’s West pointed out, “Their record doesn’t accurately reflect how good a team they are; they work hard and they have talent.”

The Tigers are in their second season under Melissa Dunne, who played for Temple University during Dawn Staley’s tenure as head coach for the Owls.

In the first half, the Griffins were propelled by the perimeter shooting of senior guard Vicky Tumasz, who recorded six of her seven three-pointers and 22 of her team-high 25 points before the intermission.

After the break, junior forward Jaeda Wildgoose took over on the inside, building from a first-half total of four points to finish with 20 for the night. Junior point guard Mary Trossi scored 10 points for the Griffins and (at 5’2″) led them in rebounds, with seven.

Even before Tumasz got started, sophomore guard Shannon Glenn lobbed in a “three” to open the scoring in the contest. Glenn bagged another later on, and with senior reserve guard Caroline Gehring also connecting from the bonus loop, the Griffins nailed nine three-point field goals in the first half.

In the final minute, Tumasz popped in her sixth trey as Chestnut Hill’s lead peaked at 15 points (43-28), then the Tigers trimmed it to a dozen as Anjelai Hayes hit a triple of her own to set the score at 43-31 for the intermission.

A few minutes into the third quarter the Griffins still held a double-digit lead at 46-36, but then the home side of the board stayed stuck at 46 points for more than five minutes. Led by sophomore guard Casey Schweitzer and receiving points from four other players, the Tigers caught up at 46 and then passed Chestnut Hill to enjoy a 51-46 advantage.

Finally, with 2:51 to go in the third round, CHC’s Wildgoose scored in transition for the Griffins and also made good on a free throw awarded on the play.

CHC senior Tomiaya Graham (center) forces her way to the hoop against Holy Family’s Elizabeth Radley (left) and Ege-Ly Viirmaa (right). (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Despite CHC’s comfortable lead earlier on, Coach West said, “We knew they weren’t going to go away, and unfortunately we went cold for too long. Jaeda got a big ‘and-one’ that sort of stopped the bleeding.”

Next, the junior forward scored off the rebound of her own shot to even the score at 51-51. Holy Family edged ahead again on a pair of free throws by freshman Jada Smith, who was a rival of Mount St. Joseph Academy’s during her career at Merion Mercy.

Tumasz sank her seventh three-pointer for Chestnut Hill and then the visitors fouled Trossi right at the end of the quarter. She made both shots from the stripe, sending CHC into the fourth round with a 56-53 advantage.

The Tigers soon drew even at 56-all, and later on the teams were locked up at 68-68 heading into the final minute of play. A Holy Family miss was rebounded by the Griffins, who almost committed a turnover coming up the floor. Trossi gained control of the ball, and Wildgoose hit a lay-up with under half-a-minute to go for a 70-68 edge.

The clock was down to 11 seconds when the Tigers were whistled for travelling and Chestnut Hill called time-out. When Wildgoose was fouled on the subsequent inbounds play, she knocked down two free throws to make it 72-68 with 10 seconds left.

The Tigers then had Alexis Hofstaeder race down the court and score a lay-up, getting the visitors back within two points with four ticks on the clock. Now on the floor for CHC was freshman guard Cassie Sebold, who had been named CACC Rookie of the Week earlier in the month. When she was fouled, she deposited the second of her two shots to put the 73-70 final on the board with two seconds remaining.

Following the three double-digit scorers for the Griffins were Sebold, with seven points, Glenn, with six, Gehring, with three, and sophomore Cailey Gibson, with two. Gibson had a game-high five assists, and Wildgoose and Glenn gathered six rebounds apiece.

Schweitzer, with a game-high 26 points, was far and away the leading scorer for Holy Family, while former Merion Golden Bear Smith scored 10 points and pulled in a game-high 11 rebounds.

Explaining how the early non-conference season was set up to help prepare the Griffins for the CACC campaign, West noted, “We scheduled some back-to-back games because there are back-to-back games in our conference tournament. What we learned from that is that we need to do a better job of bouncing back the second day. We’d win the first day, but then we didn’t have the same level of enthusiasm the second day.”

Overall, he’s pleased with the team’s progress.

“I think those tough games early on helped the players bond,” he said. “I think we’ll continue to improve as our young players on the bench gain experience and add to our depth. We’ve had a number of different people score well up in double figures at various times, so we have a lot of weapons that other teams have to defend against.”