After clinching a PSAC playoff spot for the fifth year in a row, the Seton Hill University women’s basketball team focused on achieving their first PSAC playoff victory. Not only did the Griffins win their first-ever PSAC playoff game on Monday, but they also won in their first-ever home game for the PSAC playoffs.
“It feels incredible to finally win a PSAC playoff game,” said senior guard and forward Jenna Kaufman. “I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time, so it feels awesome. Playing in front of our home crowd was very exciting. The support definitely helped in the game.”
The Griffins, who clinched the fourth seed in the PSAC West, defeated No. 5 seed Gannon University in the first round of the PSAC playoffs by a score of 78-65. SHU advanced to the quarterfinals and played No. 1 seed Indiana University of Pennsylvania Wednesday night, but lost by a score of 67-52 to end the season.
SHU finished the season with an overall record of 20-10 and went 14-8 in conference play. The team’s 19 regular season wins were the most since the 2010-11 season.
“Any team would always have a longing for more, meaning you want to win more games and do better, but I think the totality of [the season] speaks for itself,” said head coach Mark Katarski. “I think what our group did well was they were able to just sort of stay in the moment and take each game and each day for what they were. When we did that, I think it usually worked in our favor.”
The Griffins had plenty of individual successes this season as well. Cheyenne Trest won the PSAC West Freshman of the Week award nine times this season, and Katie Nolan won the award twice. Additionally, Kaufman was named to the College Sports Information Directors of America Academic All District Team for the second straight year, was named PSAC West Athlete of the Week three times this season and scored her 1,000th career point in November.
“I’d say it’s humbling and just nice to see hard work pay off because I feel like I wasn’t born with a talent for playing basketball,” Kaufman said. “I’ve grown into the player I am and I’ve learned my type of work ethic and just putting in extra work every day.”
The Griffins are also waiting to see if they will be chosen for the NCAA Atlantic Regional Tournament. SHU was in eighth place in the latest rankings and will find out if they will participate on Sunday.
“Obviously it’s an incredible accomplishment, to make the NCAA Tournament if we could, but I think just as much as anything, it’s a chance for our team to stay together longer and extend our season,” Katarski said. “We can only control what we can control and what’s in front of us, but hopefully that’s something that we can accomplish.”
Similar to last season, the team has a quartet of seniors this year: Kaufman, Alex Hay, Lindsey Mifsud and Halie Torris.
“It’d be hard to describe the impact that they’ve had on our team and the university,” Katarski said. “I think the four of them have a unique bond and friendship and relationship. It’s very genuine and it’s very true, and I think they respect each other in a lot of different ways. It’s a really unique and special group, and we’re just happy that we were able to share this time with them.”
In addition to their four seniors, the Griffins had a large amount of freshmen this season with six, and only had two sophomores and one junior. Despite only knowing the youngest class for less than a year, Kaufman said the seniors have grown close with everyone.
“I’d say out of all the teams I’ve been on, this one is probably the strongest bond,” Kaufman said. “We don’t really have many issues that you’d think a team might have. We all get along, there’s really no big problems and we hang out outside of basketball too, which is also kind of rare.”
The team’s close relationship got a jump start when the Griffins traveled to Spain last summer to play three games and explore the country.
“It sounds corny, but it was a really good bonding experience because we were with these people that we don’t really know for nine days in a foreign country, so we kind of got forced to be a team and just learn more about each other,” Kaufman said. “It was just cool to bond in that way.”
As the Griffins await the announcement of the teams in the NCAA Tournament, Kaufman said she believes this season exceeded expectations and her team achieved many of its goals, including its first PSAC playoff victory.
“[Being a student-athlete] really is an amazing experience that I’m very fortunate to have,” Kaufman said. “Just being an athlete at this level is pretty rare, so I am going to miss that, and learning to balance sports and education I think will help me in the long-run in my career. You learn a lot from being a student and an athlete at the same time.”
Published By: Paige Parise