The graduation of three-time America East (AE) Player of the Year Shereesha Richards. The arrival of a new head coach. Even the influx of these variables couldn’t stop the Albany women’s basketball team from recording its sixth straight AE Championship on Friday.
The Great Danes (21-11, 12-4 AE) took down Maine, 66-50, in a rematch of last year’s championship game. Second-seeded Albany overpowered the fourth-ranked Black Bears (18-16, 9-7 AE), who had upset conference-leading New Hampshire to punch their ticket to the final round. The Great Danes are the only women’s basketball team in conference history to capture six consecutive titles. After the departure of six-year head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson at the end of last season, Joanna Bernabei-McNamee took over. The Great Danes’ victory with Bernabei-McNamee at the helm marks the first time a first-year head coach in any AE sport has led her team to a championship.
Maine got off to an impressive start, hitting five of its first seven shots to go up, 16-6, by the end of the first quarter. The Black Bears couldn’t keep pace with the Great Danes, who outscored them, 19-6, in the second quarter.
Albany shot just 32.4 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes of play. As soon as the second half got started, though, the Great Danes couldn’t be stopped from the floor, sinking 54.2 percent of shots from the field. Albany’s defense secured the win, holding Maine to 10 fewer points than it has averaged against opponents this season. Albany capitalized on Maine’s errors, scoring 26 points off 24 turnovers while recording 15 steals.
Albany junior guard Imani Tate was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after tallying 21 points in the championship game. Freshman guard Mackenzie Trpcic tallied 15 points and six assists. Black Bears’ senior guard Sigi Koizar, who was named to the AE First Team prior to the tournament, led Maine with 14 points.
The Great Danes’s victory earned them a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They will take on first-seeded UConn in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. from the Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut.