Queens, NY - In retrospect, the final score was deceptive. Second round WNIT action saw St. John's (23-10) pull away in the stretch for a 77-63 victory over Fordham at Carnesecca Arena.
Three points of emphasis:
1. Opportunity. St. John's, with 21 wins, was on the cusp of the NCAA tournament. The Red Storm were defeated in the Big East semifinals by Seton hall and did not get on the board selection Monday. Often, teams disappointed with not going to the Big Dance lose focus and are quickly eliminated in the WNIT (or NIT) by a hungrier team. St. John's coach Joe Tartamella stressed to his team this is an opportunity. A national tournament, a chance to play for a championship. Just a chance to play as many with their seasons ended would gladly trade places. "What we do in this (WNIT) tournament, Tartamella said, "We can build on come next season."
2. The depth, or lack of it, was not an issue. Not an excuse but Tartamella accurately pointed out the Big East Friday-Sunday format was tough on his usually 6 deep rotation. Thus far in the WNIT, the schedule offered a few extra days. St. John's defeated army on Thursday in the first round. Three days later was Fordham. Another three day rest and preparation looms before a Sweet 16 math up at Villanova.
Then again any rotation is energized by the likes of Aliyyah Handford. The junior guard scored a game high 23 points while adding another game high 10 rebounds. As Fordham coach Stephanie Gaitley said, "We renamed her (Handford) handful."
3. An outstanding season ended for the Rams. They finished 21-12. Beyond that it was the end of the road for Stephanie Gaitley's first group. She arrived at Rose Hill four years ago. Gaitley sold the idea of a new direction and bright future. This senior group, as well as those returning bought into her vision. In four years the Rams have two WNIT appearances. An Atlantic ten title and NCAA appearance. "The bar has been significantly raised," said Gaitley. She spoke after the St. John's game and referred to the future. Building on the recent resurgence and success.
It was a farewell for senior Emily Tappio (a team high 19 points). Also making the last appearance special was Tiffany Ruffin, a graduate guard adding 18 points, a team high 7 boards and 5 assists.
End of an era. Not the end, by any stretch, of winning ways on Rose Hill.