From afar this looks like a disconnect between Amherst and their opponents in terms of skill but Alison Doswell challenged that notion.
“On the surface, it seems kind of easy, and looking back at it, oh yeah, we didn’t have many close games, but every day we had to go in and work hard every game, and we had to be focused,” she said.
All those long hours on the court and the hard work was evident to their new section of fans and made each game enjoyable. Both Vasiliu and Doswell asserted that to really appreciate their game and even women’s basketball in general, you must look deeper and appreciate more than just the score.
“Part of it is going and appreciating how hard they work,” Vasiliu said. “That’s the reason they are winning by 40, not because they are naturally better than everyone else but because they work hard and work harder than anybody else.”
Big crowds and peer support are not as hard to come by for the Amherst College men’s basketball team, who went 17-8 on the season. They averaged about double the attendance of the women’s basketball games.
One argument as to why a No. 1 women’s team doesn’t have nearly the attendance as its lower ranked men’s team does is that the score is closer and, therefore, the game is more exciting.
“I’ll ask people to come to our game and they be like ‘oh is the team any good?’,” Doswell said. “People want closer games. I’ve heard that a lot.”
This same perception is held on the national scale with the UConn Huskies and women’s basketball in general.
“I mean I definitely like to see more people appreciate [the sport] especially when so many people appreciate men’s basketball and it’s not like men’s and women’s lacrosse,” Doswell said. “We literally play the same exact game with the same skills. We work just as hard.”
After powering their way to a NESCAC Championship and through the opening round of the NCAA tournament this season, Amherst College found themselves where they worked to be: competing in the NCAA Division III National Championship game.
Even better was the opponent: Tufts.
The advantage favored Amherst who had defeated Tufts two times this season, one being the NESCAC Championship game three weeks earlier.
This time the game was being played in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which made it difficult to secure the growing fan presence that was, at points, overbearing for other teams all throughout the playoffs back in Amherst.
Evidently, Alison and Meredith’s mom, Mary Doswell, thought of the perfect way to bring the Amherst fans spirit to Michigan. Fatheads on sticks.
Big, blown up pictures of Vasiliu and Rotella’s faces made its way to the National Championship game. Even from a computer stream, Rotella’s head could be seen in the crowd surrounded by the family and friends of the players. This spoke volumes to how much their support meant to the team, to the season, and to this big stage moment.
Amherst controlled the entire game, out-strategizing the skilled Tufts offense and holding them to just six points in the entire first half. With under two minutes to go in the game, with a commanding 27-point lead, Gromacki replaced his starting five with five bench players. Then replaced Jamie Renner and Maeve McNamara, who just entered the game, with two more bench players, making sure everyone got to play in the Championship game.
The final score was 52-29, the lowest combined scoring championship game in the history of Division III. Doswell, D3hoops.com First-Team All-American and Most Outstanding Player of the National Finals, led her team with 21 points and five rebounds.
Blue, purple and white confetti cluttered the floor. So did the Amherst fan section and the ‘super-fan’ fatheads.
Amherst College Women's Basketball team celebrate the NCAA Division III National Championship victory with family and friends in Grand Rapids, Michigan on March 18, 2017. (COURTESY STEVE FROMMELL/d3photography.com)
For Doswell, a championship victory was bittersweet. Her career came to an end as Amherst College’s all-time leading scorer with 1,572 points over four years representing the Purple and White. When reminiscing on the moment, she could only describe the win as “pure happiness.”
Gromacki captured his second National Championship and improved his coaching record at Amherst to 295-24. He has won seven of the last ten NESCAC Championships, proving that different players can achieve the same result with consistent hard work.
Doswell and her teammates felt relief when the season ended undefeated at 33-0, a goal that was present in the backs of their minds all season. It felt nice to be recognized for it, too.
“It’s nice to see this year the good following from the guys because it’s nice to feel like it’s something to people, which we haven’t felt like in the past few years,” Doswell said.
Barely one week after arriving home undefeated with the championship trophy, the team began its off-season training with pick-up games at the gym.
Though she can hardly believe it, Doswell's college playing years are behind her. The long practices, the devastating playoff losses, the gratifying feeling she gets after a big win, and getting to share the court with her twin, Meredith, are over. However, for the sake and growth of women's basketball, she hopes the support she and the team received from peers during her final season is not.
Amherst College celebrates its NCAA Division III women’s basketball championship after beating Tufts University, Sat. March 18, 2017, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (COURTESY STEVE FROMMELL/d3photography.com)