BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – Reaching the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Division Three Women’s Basketball tournament is one thing. Getting there two years in-a-row is quite another.
Doing it with the same personnel is difficult. Doing it with two different groups takes family.
And there’s no place a family functions better than at home.
Taking full advantage of its home court on Saturday night, the Lebanon Valley women’s basketball program reached the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA national championship tournament for the second straight year, with a convincing 70-53 triumh over Mount Saint Mary of New York. After falling behind 14-6 early, the Flying Dutchmen dominated their guests 64-39 over the final 36 nminutes of action.
LVC had reached last night’s contest with a 73-68 victory over Vassar on Friday night. The 17th-ranked Flying Dutchmen are now 16-1 at home.
Last season, Lebanon Valley reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Division Three postseason with a senior-laden squad. While this group is younger and less experienced, their 25-3 overall record and Commonwealth Conference championship are testaments to their success.
The Sweet Sixteen and quarterfinal rounds of the NCAA tournament will be contested on Friday and Saturday, and a chance does exist that Lebanon Valley could host those rounds. Up next for LVC is Mary Washington, which ousted Messiah 53-50.
Mount Saint Mary saw its season come to a 25-3 conclusion.
“I know they’re (his players) not being coached better,” said Lebanon Valley College head coach and father Todd Goclowski. “But yeah, we’re playing better (than in the regular season) and we’re growing relationships. It’s a family of people, and the more success you have with individual relationships the more success you’re going to have on the court.
“Family’s grow and change,” Goclowski continued. “Some members of the family take on different roles. But elements of the family remain the same. Working hard. Giving it your all. Playing together. Our core values have remained the same.”
Still staring at a six-point hole nine minutes before halftime, Lebanon Valley rattled off 13 of the next 15 points to grab a 28-23 advantage. Liz Borgia collected six LVC points during the burst.
Then the Flying Dutchmen held the Knights without a score for the final 4:06 of the first half to take a 38-28 bulge to the locker room. Among those five unanswered points were five from freshman point guard Kiely Chaklos.
And after Caitilin Murphy and Tierney Hiltz pushed LVC’s lead to 14 points 30 seconds into the second half, the Flying Dutchmen were never seriously headed again.
“It’s exciting,” said Goclowski. “I’m proud of this particular team. They wanted to create their own identity. They questioned themselves, but they worked hard to gain confidence.
“There’s nothing better than spring break in Annville,” Goclowski added.
Taking a pass-first approach, the Flying Dutchmen’s dynamic backcourt of Hiltz and Chaklos showed the way. Chaklos poured in 18 points, Hiltz pumped in 16, while interior teammates Renee Fritz and Borgia tallied 15 and 13 points, respectively.
Lebanon Valley shot a season-high 56 percent from the field – which included a perfect four-for-four from beyond the arc – and limited Mount Saint Mary to 37 percent shooting. The Flying Dutchmen also won the rebound battle 35-27 and outscored the Knights by ten points at the foul stripe.
“Our inside play was dominating,” said Goclowski. “We really wanted to take advantage of the way they were going to guard our screen-roll. It’s nice to see Liz (Borgia) score the ball at the level she is capable of. She finished things.
“We share the ball,” added Goclowski. “We’re going to take what a defense gives us. We took advantage of what they gave us tonight. It just happened to be post play.”
Lebanon Valley’s 17-0 jaunt through the middle of the second half placed an exclamation point on the win. A jumper from Borgia put the Flying Dutchmen up 61-35.
“I never looked that far ahead,” said Goclowski, when asked if he thought these Flying Dutchmen could reach this point. “It was one game at a time. We were just focused on that first game. But I’m proud of my women.”
Lebanon Valley got off to a bit of a slow start and an 8-2 Knight run gave them a 14-6 lead 4:09 into things.
“I think you have to credit the other team,” said Goclowski. “Mount Saint Mary came out strong and it took us a while to settle in. They forced us to do things we didn’t want to do. I felt very fortunate to be up ten at halftime. It felt like we were down ten.”
The playoff contest attracted an announced crowd of 1,175 supportive spectators.
“We have certainly put in a bid to host the next round,” said Goclowski. “But there’s a lot of good teams with great records out there. We’ll celebrate the win and see where the NCAA sends us next Friday.”