Fordham Athletic Director Dave Roach Announces Retirement

This article originally appeared in The Fordham Ram in April 2020.

On Friday, Fordham Athletic Director Dave Roach announced his retirement, effective at the end of the 2019-20 academic year.

“After much thought and reflection, I have decided to retire at the end of June,” Roach, 70, said in a statement. “It has been an exceptionally satisfying and rewarding forty-five years in intercollegiate athletics, and I am incredibly grateful for all that my time in athletics has given me. It is far more than I ever imagined.”

Since his hiring in 2012, Roach oversaw improvements to Fordham’s athletic facilities, including a multimillion dollar project to install a new floor at the Rose Hill Gym this past summer. He also oversaw the success of Fordham’s softball (six straight A-10 titles), women’s basketball (two NCAA Tournament appearances) and baseball (A-10 champions in 2019) teams. He also oversaw the contract extension of Fordham Men’s Basketball coach Jeff Neubauer in 2016; the Rams have finished last in the Atlantic 10 each of the last three years, with just nine conference victories in that time.

“Fordham and its student athletes are deeply grateful to Dave for his eight seasons of leadership on and off the field,” said Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university, in a statement. “I know the Fordham community joins me in thanking Dave for his long service, and in wishing him a joyful retirement.”

Reports also surfaced on Friday that Fordham was looking to make changes in the men’s basketball program that would include a new head coach, but nothing has been made official by the school. ZAGSBLOG.com’s Adam Zagoria is reporting that a change involving Neubauer could take place by Monday. The team has lost 64 games in the last three seasons.

Eligibility Relief Granted for Spring Athletes, Denied for Winter Players

This article originally appeared in The Fordham Ram in April 2020.

As expected, the NCAA Division I Council voted on Monday to grant spring athletes an extra year of eligibility but did not do the same for winter athletes who had completed most of their seasons.

This move comes two-and-a-half weeks after the NCAA canceled all spring and winter sports championships due to the coronavirus outbreak. The move will extend the career of many athletes across the country. However, there’s a catch.

Despite being allowed to have an extra season — and in the case of seniors, a return for an extra year — schools will not be forced to grant senior athletes the same level of financial aid they would have received for the 2019-2020 academic year. According to the release, the NCAA is doing so “in a nod to the financial uncertainty faced by higher education.” It is unclear to what extent schools will uphold the previously-held financial aid agreements, but they will not be bound to these scholarships. Per the release, schools will also be authorized to use the NCAA’s Student Assistance Fund to pay for these scholarships if necessary. 

Of course, it also remains to be seen how many of these athletes take advantage of the NCAA’s eligibility relief. Last week, The Fordham Ram’s sports team interviewed several Fordham athletes as to whether or not they would do this, and some, like Fordham Baseball outfielder Billy Godrick, were skeptical. 

“My guess is that only a third of all seniors affected nationwide, probably even less, will use the fifth year of eligibility based on a wide variety of different factors such as tuition costs and job opportunities,” Godrick said. “There’s a lot of details that need to be worked out by the NCAA, such as scholarships and expanded roster sizes.”

To that end, the NCAA is increasing the roster limit for baseball, the only spring sport with such a defined limitation. Previously, there has been a limit of 35 players for a college baseball roster; while it is unclear how many players will now be allowed to be on a single roster, the number will be more than 35.

The Division I Council, also as expected, voted down a measure to allow winter athletes the same extensions, as all or most of their regular seasons were completed. Most notably, this means that most men’s basketball teams were unable to complete their conference tournaments, and both men’s and women’s teams were unable to participate in the postseason. 

All spring athletes will get an extra year of eligibility, and senior athletes will get another season. That much is certain; the next question to be answered is how many of these seniors take advantage of this competitive rain check.

NCAA, Member Schools to Suffer Massive Losses from Coronavirus Shutdown

This article originally appeared in The Fordham Ram in April 2020.

On March 12, the NCAA canceled all winter and spring athletics championships, followed shortly thereafter by collegiate conferences shutting down all play for the rest of the season. This meant a cancellation of March Madness and the remainder of spring seasons.

Twenty days later, we have a greater sense of just how costly this will be for the NCAA and its member schools, one of which is Fordham.

Last Thursday, the organization announced that it could cut its payouts to member schools by more than half, from $600 million to $225 million, later this year. The move was largely spurred by the cancellation of the Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, which raked in nearly $1 billion last year in revenue from advertising and its broadcasting partners, CBS and Turner. 

When reached for comment, Fordham Athletic Director Dave Roach confirmed that this would affect Fordham, which is one of 353 NCAA Division I institutions. “Once we see the exact numbers, we will adjust accordingly to not hinder the student-athlete experience,” Roach said.

Hopefully, for the schools and players, this experience will not be affected. The next major mile marker for the NCAA’s revenue loss will be the start of football season in the fall, which is uncertain but could be in peril as the nation’s public health crisis deteriorates by the day. According to legal analyst Andy Schwarz, a partner with California law firm OSKR, college football alone generated $51 million last season for each NCAA FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) school; this does not include Fordham. If the football season is impacted or lost altogether, the financial losses for many of the nation’s top athletic programs would be devastating.

As of now, the NCAA is attempting to mitigate this with short-term cuts. How exactly it will affect schools like Fordham will remain to be seen, but likely won’t be fully realized until the coronavirus pandemic dies down.

Extra Eligibility Leaves Upcoming Decisions for Student-Athletes

This article originally appeared in The Fordham Ram in March 2020.

(With Dylan Balsamo and Alex Wolz)

As a country, we are currently in uncharted territory. 

With the rapid spread of the coronavirus grinding America to a halt, the NCAA has also seen repercussions. On March 12, college sports’ governing body canceled all spring and winter sports championships, including the men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments. Shortly thereafter, the Atlantic 10, along with many other major conferences, canceled all spring sports competitions, ending the seasons of thousands of athletes across the country.

In response, the NCAA Division I Council’s leadership group — a panel of eight collegiate administrators — said that eligibility relief was appropriate for athletes affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The full Division I Council will officially vote on the measure on Monday, with the proposal widely expected to pass. However, this has raised questions for many NCAA athletes, including those at Fordham, about whether or not they want to take advantage of it if it is approved. Most notably, many Fordham seniors will face a difficult decision: come back for a fifth year or move on to future opportunities. We at The Fordham Ram thought it would be appropriate to reach out to Fordham senior athletes to find out some of their plans. Beyond that, we simply wanted to hear the perspective of those who are most affected by the situation that has unfolded.

Ups and downs, back and forth, mass confusion, unsure whether to go home, go to practice or of where to go next. These were a few of the many emotions underlining the flurry of them that came to rowers Erika Selakowski, Brikena Prendaj and Julia Comerford upon hearing the announcement. For Selakowski, the moment came as a shock. 

“Honestly after being an athlete for over 15 years, you feel like you’ve been prepared to face anything that comes your way. Yet nothing can prepare you to hear the season that you worked so hard for every single day since the first day of school got cancelled … It was jarring and it shook me to my core.”

It was a difficult reality to comprehend, yet Selakowski cherishes watching the early morning sunrises, pushing limits in the weight room and competing with a phenomenal team.

“I love my sport, I love Fordham athletics and most of all I love my team beyond measure … the last three and a half years have given me countless memories, plenty of lessons, and the closest and best of friends.”

Because of this, despite the challenges of the moment, Selakowski looks back on her career in a positive light.

“I will forever be grateful to Fordham Rowing for shaping me and my college career in the beautiful way it did.”

Prendaj remarked on many of the same moments as Selakowski with a similar gratitude.

“As much as rowing drove me up a wall sometimes … it made up for everything in the little moments … We grew to love and support one another … we raced through blood, sweat and tears.” 

Prendaj acknowledged that this situation is about so much more than sports, with the necessary decision being made. Even so, she finishes her rowing career with no regrets.

“There is nothing I feel robbed of … we have achieved every dream and goal I could have imagined for us.”

Comerford focused specifically on her teammates and memories along the way, saying, “Facing something like this, like any struggle as an athlete, alongside your teammates makes it just a little bit better.”

Comerford adopted a more encompassing perspective on the situation, offering advice for future spring athletes.

“I encourage every spring athlete to share memories with their teammates and grow closer during this time because what makes a team is the people that are in it.”

Like many others, Fordham Baseball third baseman Matt Tarabek was devastated to learn his team’s season was canceled. “The part that got a lot of us emotional was realizing the fact that it will never be the same as it was before, and there’s a very good chance most of us don’t play together again,” Tarabek said. However, he is happy that the NCAA is granting athletes extra eligibility, saying it was “awesome news to hear.”

Fordham Baseball senior outfielder Billy Godrick says he was “thrilled” when he heard that he and other seniors around the country would be able to play next year. That being said, he’s skeptical that many of his fellow players will take advantage.

“My guess is that only a third of all seniors affected nationwide, probably even less, will use the fifth year of eligibility based on a wide variety of different factors such as tuition costs and job opportunities,” Godrick said. “There’s a lot of details that need to be worked out by the NCAA, such as scholarships and expanded roster sizes.”

Fordham Softball senior Madie Aughinbaugh was also happy to see the NCAA’s decision.

“I was relieved and so happy that my athletic career was no longer over,” she said. “It is a small win in all of this craziness happening right now.”

She also said she plans on playing for Fordham next season.

“I was planning on going to grad school anyways, so now I get to do it playing instead of being a grad assistant somewhere,” Aughinbaugh said. “Obviously, there are other factors involved but this is all still relatively new news and I’m taking it one step at a time with my family.”

Fordham Women’s Track Sprinter Mary Kate Caucci has not yet looked toward the future, instead expressing love for her track family that she has had by her side.

“Although losing my senior outdoor season was disappointing, I am incredibly grateful for the experiences I’ve had with my coaches and teammates.”

The idea of extra eligibility puts those like Caucci in a particularly interesting situation. Track, unlike most other sports, is not a single season program, as there are winter and spring events. How would the NCAA go about this issue?

Their solution was to grant seniors eligibility for both seasons, a decision that caught Fordham Men’s Track senior Sean Sullivan off guard.

“This decision surprised me because the NCAA historically has seemed to me to be very by the rules,” Sullivan said. “As a result of this decision, I am currently considering extending my education to a fifth year to continue both my academic and athletic career.”

While the NCAA has tried to remedy an unprecedented situation with unprecedented action, there are just as many questions as answers at the present time. From the NCAA’s point of view, this move is pricey, as USA Today estimates it will cost the Power 5 conferences between $500,000 and $900,000. A conference like the Atlantic 10 would likely be subject to similar losses. In the immediate future, though, athletes and coaches will still be reeling from the loss of the season. Fordham Baseball coach Kevin Leighton called March 12, the day the sports world went dark, the “worst day (he’s) had as a coach” in a tweet thanking his team. 

For spring athletes and winter teams whose seasons were not completed, the promise of a new year has gone up in smoke. There will be no winner at the end of the season. The nets will not be cut down. Spring athletes will not get their one shining moment. Tarabek, one of the baseball team’s senior starters, will always be haunted by what could have been.

“There will always be that ‘How good could we really have been this year?’ question that won’t be answered,” Tarabek says. “That is the part I think really began to settle in for a lot of us, along with not much closure and just kind of having to go our separate ways out of nowhere.” 

That reality has set in, not just at Fordham, but around the country. And right now, there are more questions than answers.

Atlantic 10 Cancels All Spring Athletic Events

This article originally appeared in The Fordham Ram in March 2020.

On Thursday, the Atlantic 10 joined the most extensive sports shutdown since the September 11 attacks, canceling all spring sports through the rest of the semester in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The announcement came in the wake of a blistering 24 hours that saw the National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, National Football League and Major League Soccer all suspend their seasons on the professional side. The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments were canceled on Thursday afternoon, in addition to winter and spring tournaments, which would have effectively dead-ended spring sports seasons even if they were to continue. 

This was all set in motion after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus before Wednesday’s NBA game between the Jazz and the Thunder. With this, the games are on hold, and Fordham sports have been halted. Whether or not the athletes affected will get an extra year of eligibility for their troubles will be decided by the NCAA.

Baseball Outscores Iona 33-3 in Weekend Sweep

This article originally appeared in The Fordham Ram in March 2020

Fordham Baseball has found its legs.

After losing six of its first seven games, Fordham has won its last eight, including last weekend’s sweep over Furman and this weekend’s sweep over Iona.

Fordham beat Iona over three games at Houlihan Park in the Bronx this past weekend, and the Rams did so in dominant fashion. Fordham outscored Iona 33-3 over the three-game series, and the Rams won the two Sunday games by a combined 25 runs.

Friday’s game was the first of the series and also the most difficult for Fordham. The fact that Fordham had little difficulty winning the game said more about the series — and the Rams’ play — than it did about the game itself. Fordham jumped out to a 3-0 lead after two innings with two of the three runs coming on hits by sophomore outfielder Jason Coules. Coules has emerged as Fordham’s leading hitter early in the season, batting .469 with 23 hits in 15 games. He hit third in the lineup at all three games this weekend, and his consistent production should allow him to stay in the heart of the lineup for the foreseeable future.

Fordham junior left-handed pitcher Matt Mikulski turned in an excellent outing, with 5.2 scoreless innings. Mikulski has given up just three earned runs in 21 innings this season. The freshman tandem of Jack Popolizio and Ben Kovel combined to allow just one run over the final 3.1 innings to hold off the Gaels and earn Fordham a 3-1 victory. 

Friday’s win, while impressive, was nothing compared to what Fordham had in store for Sunday.

Fordham jumped all over Iona on Sunday’s first game with three runs in the second inning, eight runs in the third, three in the fourth and two in the fifth. Seniors Matt Tarabek and C.J. Vazquez led the way, driving in three runs each. Sophomore pitcher Cory Wall got the victory with five scoreless innings, and sophomore Brandon Martin also threw two scoreless innings in relief. When it was all said and done, Fordham had coasted to a 16-2 victory and would continue this momentum into the second game of the doubleheader.

There, Fordham got off to a similar start as game one. Coules once again jump-started the attack, with an RBI single in the first inning to put Fordham on the board first. The Rams broke through for five runs in the next inning, highlighted by a Tarabek two-run home run. Junior and Atlantic 10 Pitcher of the Year John Stankiewicz was excellent over five scoreless innings, and the combination of sophomore Gabe Karslo, freshman Alex Henderson, senior Alvin Melendez and freshman Garrett Crowley held down the fort over the next four innings as Fordham completed the sweep with an 11-0 win.

With their latest victories, the Rams have now won eight straight games. However, things will be different this week, as Fordham will play two games against Wagner and St. John’s without an audience due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Wednesday’s game against Wagner will start at 3 p.m.

Fordham to Continue Athletic Events Despite University’s Coronavirus Response

This article originally appeared in The Fordham Ram in March 2020.

Fordham University has decided to cancel in-person classes due to the rapidly-growing novel coronavirus outbreak in the United States and the New York area. 

That response from the university has not, however, affected the playing of Fordham’s athletic events.

The university announced as part of its coronavirus update this morning that athletic events would go on as scheduled without spectators through March 30, the same date the university has set for a reassessment of the situation to see if classes can resume. There are 15 events scheduled for Fordham University between now and then, mostly comprised by Fordham’s baseball and softball teams. Two of the 15 are a part of the softball team’s home opener against Massachusetts University on the afternoon of March 21, and another home event could come into play if Fordham Women’s Basketball makes the WNIT.

The games will go on, but all nonessential staff will not be there. ESPN+, the television partner of the Atlantic 10, also plans to go on with its coverage of Fordham sports.

Women’s Basketball Surrenders 17-Point Second Half Lead in Atlantic 10 Semifinal Loss to VCU

This article originally appeared in The Fordham Ram in March 2020.

Fordham Women’s Basketball has prided itself on execution and limited mistakes over the past few years. Fordham is first in the Atlantic 10 in turnovers per game and second in the conference in turnover margin. The Rams don’t commit silly fouls, and they play a hard-nosed brand of defense that makes it difficult for teams to come back once Fordham has built a lead.

All of this makes what happened on Saturday afternoon all the more confusing.

Despite holding a 41-24 lead late in the third quarter, Fordham fell to Virginia Commonwealth University 60-55 in the Atlantic 10 semifinals in Dayton, Ohio. VCU outscored Fordham 36-14 in the final 13 minutes of the victory to earn a trip to the A-10 title game and stunningly eliminate Fordham from the tournament.

The first 27 minutes of the game were a dream for Fordham and head coach Stephanie Gaitley. Fordham held VCU to just 2-13 (15%) shooting in the first quarter en route to a slim early lead. VCU tied the game at 17 with over four minutes left in the first half, but Fordham closed the half on a 9-0 run to take a nine-point lead into the half. Freshman guard Anna DeWolfe was the offensive catalyst for Fordham, as she scored the first six points for Fordham and finished the half with 11 points. Junior guard Bre Cavanaugh added nine points, and most importantly, Fordham held VCU to 17 points and 22% shooting in the first 20 minutes.

Coming out of the halftime break, Fordham threw a haymaker that threatened to end the semifinal fight.

The Rams made their first three shots of the second half to go on a 6-0 run and extend their lead. Baskets by sophomore forward Kaitlyn Downey, Cavanaugh and DeWolfe put Fordham up 35-19 with 7:45 left in the third quarter. Fordham maintained this edge over the next few minutes, and a three by Downey that hit all parts of the rim — including a slight bounce off the backboard — put Fordham up 41-24 with 3:14 left in the third quarter. Fordham was in the best possible position: a lead of nearly 20 points with VCU struggling to put the ball in the basket. The Rams could smell a Sunday showdown with Dayton for the A-10 championship and a chance to win a conference championship for the second year in a row. And then the wheels fell off.

In hindsight, Fordham began to write its epitaph by sending VCU to the free throw line. After Downey’s three, VCU — which hadn’t made a field goal in over four minutes — scored its next five points on free throws to pull within 12 points. At the end of the quarter, the Rams from Richmond got rolling, with a three from sophomore Madison Haddix-Covington and a basket from senior Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year Danielle Hammond. After three quarters, VCU had made 15 free throws in 17 attempts while Fordham had been to the line just four times. 

In the fourth, the teams spent the first few minutes trading blows. Hammond’s basket to cut the Fordham lead to five was met with a quick 5-0 run from the Rams to extend the margin back to double digits. However, VCU scored the next six points and the fight to the finish was on. Free throws from VCU junior Tera Reed cut the lead to three, but four straight points from Fordham gave them a seven-point lead with 4:57 to play. However, Fordham would make just one field goal the rest of the day.

Junior Taya Robinson — who led all scorers with 22 points — brought VCU back within five with 3:28 to go on a jumper, and after a Hammond free throw made it a four-point game, Robinson’s three brought VCU within one with just inside a minute to play. Downey was fouled on a rebound attempt on the next possession and went to the line for two free throws. Downey had missed just four free throws on the year, but she missed both this time, and VCU took advantage on the next possession when Robinson’s floater put her team up by one. After a missed jumper by Cavanaugh and a missed free throw by VCU’s Haddix-Covington, Fordham junior forward Zara Jillings was fouled and had an opportunity to tie the game. However, she missed her second free throw, and Fordham never got closer to victory.

Hammond hit both of her free throws with 21 seconds left to put VCU up by three. Instead of going for the tie, Fordham opted to extend the game, and Cavanaugh made a layup with 13 seconds left to get it back to one. Robinson nearly lost possession for VCU on the ensuing inbound, but she was fouled and made both free throws. With both teams out of timeouts, Fordham decided to go for three to force overtime, but Downey’s three-point attempt was blocked by Hammond and recovered by VCU senior Nyra Williams with 0.8 seconds left to send VCU to the A-10 title game.

In the final analysis of VCU’s comeback, Fordham will have regrets, but the team will most rue the free throw disparity. VCU made 24 of their 28 attempts from the charity stripe while Fordham had just 10 attempts and made six. The Rams also may regret going away from DeWolfe, who finished the game with 16 points but did not take a shot in the fourth quarter. Cavanaugh led Fordham with 17 points but missed 15 of her 22 shot attempts.

Now, Fordham waits to find out if it made the WNIT, which is the premier postseason tournament for non-NCAA Tournament teams. Fordham is expected to have a place in the Invitational, which starts March 18. Although the Rams should look ahead to this opportunity, provided they get it, they will spend a fair amount of time wondering what could have been.

Women’s Basketball’s Bre Cavanaugh Wins Atlantic 10 Player of the Year

This article originally appeared in The Fordham Ram in March 2020.

On Thursday, the Atlantic 10 confirmed what everyone already knew: that Fordham junior guard Bre Cavanaugh was its best player. 

Cavanaugh has been named A-10 Player of the Year for the 2019-20 season after she scored 19.5 points per game and grabbed over six rebounds per game. However, Cavanaugh took her play to another level in conference play, as she scored over 21 points per game in 16 conference contests. In Fordham’s first-round game against St. Joe’s on Tuesday night, Cavanaugh played up to her season averages, with 22 points and five rebounds. 

Cavanaugh has been playing at a high level since arriving at Rose Hill in 2017. In her freshman season, she earned second-team all-conference honors and made the league’s all-rookie team. However, she lost out on conference Rookie of the Year honors to George Mason’s Nicole Cardaño-Hillary, who had an excellent season of her own that year with 18 points per game to Cavanaugh’s 17. Last year, Cavanaugh took another step forward, making the A-10’s first-team but losing out on Atlantic 10 Player of the Year to Cardaño-Hillary once again. Last year’s race was razor-thin, with some feeling that Cavanaugh should have won Player of the Year because of her play combined with Fordham’s team success.

This year, heading into her junior year, Cavanaugh left no doubt as to who the conference’s best player was.

Despite playing in every game this season and playing all but 39 minutes this season, Cavanaugh left everything on the floor and never showed even the slightest signs of tiring. She upped her scoring numbers to 19.5 points per game, along with slight improvements in efficiency. Cavanaugh has scored 20 or more points in 14 of Fordham’s 17 conference games, including the postseason. The highlight of her season was her last-second three-pointer over Davidson on Feb. 13 to give Fordham the win and Cavanaugh her first game-winner.

The honors did not stop there for Fordham, however.

Fellow junior Kendell Heremaia made the conference’s third-team after a season in which she showed improvements in all areas of her game. Despite being just 5’9“, Heremaia was the league’s third-leading rebounder and was a presence for the Rams inside. She also scored 12.2 points per game and averaged 2.8 assists to lead her team. Heremaia has improved leaps and bounds in her time in the Bronx and thanks to hard work and determination, she has emerged as one of the Rams’ best players this season.

Elsewhere, freshman guard Anna DeWolfe was named to the Atlantic 10’s all-rookie team after averaging 12.5 points per game to be Fordham’s second-leading scorer this season. DeWolfe’s ability to make difficult shots and shoot from outside was critical for Fordham, as she was able to take the load off Cavanaugh and Heremaia when needed this season. Finally, junior forward Zara Jillings was named to the conference’s all-academic team thanks to her stellar work in the Gabelli School of Business, which she graduated from in December after just 2 1/2 years.

Fordham raked in several individual awards on Thursday, but the team’s greater focus is on Friday night’s Atlantic 10 quarterfinal matchup with Duquesne. Tip-off for that game is at 7 p.m., and Cavanaugh, Heremaia, DeWolfe and Jillings will only be content if the Rams bring home a second-straight conference title.

Women’s Basketball Wins First-Round Game Against St. Joe’s

This article originally appeared in The Fordham Ram in March 2020.

Fordham Women’s Basketball entered the Atlantic 10 Tournament on a quest to win its second-straight conference title. So far, that journey is off to an excellent start.

Fordham defeated Saint Joseph’s University 59-36 on Tuesday night in front of a lively crowd at the Rose Hill Gym. The Rams had a particularly noteworthy performance on the defensive end, holding St. Joe’s to fewer points than it allowed from any other opponent this season.

The win over St. Joe’s was the second-such victory in four days, as Fordham ended its regular season with a home rout of the Hawks 67-45 on Saturday. The win clinches a spot for the Rams in the A-10 quarterfinals and a matchup with Duquesne University on Friday night at University of Dayton Arena.

“I thought (freshman) Sarah (Karpell) did another great job defensively and of course, (junior) Bre (Cavanaugh) stepped up offensively, but you could look at a lot of different people who stepped up and did some great things,” Fordham head coach Stephanie Gaitley said.

Fordham suffocated St. Joe’s from the outset defensively. Karpell, the Rams’ foremost defensive stopper, held the Hawks’ leading scorer, sophomore Katie Jekot, to just eight points on 2-13 shooting from the field. Cavanaugh, despite a barrage of double teams and all of St. Joe’s’ defensive attention, still got her offense, scoring 22 points on 8-17 shooting in her closing argument to be named A-10 Player of the Year.

Junior Kendell Heremaia also chipped in 15 points, and Gaitley was impressed with her effort on both ends.
“I challenged Kendell in practice yesterday and she responded really well. To me, she’s our missing link; when she plays well, I think we’re a different team, so I was really proud of her.”

Fordham led the game 13-7 after the first quarter and caught fire offensively at the end of the first half, taking a 10-point lead into the locker room and maintaining a 18-4 run from the end of the first half to the beginning of the second.

In the third quarter, the Rams blitzed St. Joe’s with hot shooting, as Fordham shot 8-16 and outscored St. Joe’s by 13 points to make the game a blowout heading into the fourth. Despite struggling early on, Fordham was able to defend well all night en route to a blowout victory.

With the win, Fordham will face sixth-seeded Duquesne in the A-10 quarterfinal on Friday. Fordham lost 74-63 to Duquesne last Tuesday in what was by most measures Fordham’s worst defensive performance of the season.

“I think the only blip on our radar was Duquesne defensively,” Gaitley said. “We have a great shot of getting them back.” Shortly after this quote, Gaitley learned that her team would be facing Duquesne, and Fordham knocked out Duquesne with a dominant 76-34 win in the semifinals of last year’s A-10 Tournament in Pittsburgh.

Fordham will need all hands on deck to win another Atlantic 10 crown. Teams like Duquesne, Virginia Commonwealth University and Dayton will be difficult to take down this time around, and Fordham will enter Ohio with a target on their back as the defending conference champions. Still, the team is feeling good as it tries to win thrice in three days to return to the NCAA Tournament.

Looking ahead to Fordham’s road through the conference, it will be difficult. Starting on Friday night, Duquesne boasts multiple double-digit scorers in juniors Libby Bazelak and Laia Sole, both of whom went for at least 20 points when Duquesne toppled Fordham last Tuesday.

If the Rams win, they’ll face either Davidson College or VCU, both of whom beat the Rams once in the regular season. Davidson would have beaten Fordham twice had it not been for Cavanaugh’s last-second buzzer-beater to win the game for Fordham on Feb. 13.

After that, if Fordham reaches the final, its likeliest opponents are Saint Louis University or Dayton. Fordham played both teams twice in the regular season and split the meetings.

The toughest test for Fordham may be simply playing away from home. Fordham is currently 20-10 on the season and 14-2 at the Rose Hill Gym. Everywhere else, the Rams have a record of just 6-8. That being said, Fordham enters this tournament confident that they can make their way through the conference, and that task starts at 7 p.m. on Friday night at UD Arena.

“I think they’re in a great place right now,” Gaitley said. “I think we realize that one of our worst efforts was against Duquesne. They’re a very good team, don’t get me wrong, but I just don’t think we played our best basketball so we’re looking forward to getting that chance again.”