Women’s basketball: Smith College blasts Babson, captures 4th straight NEWMAC title

The Smith College women’s basketball team won its fourth consecutive NEWMAC championship on Sunday thanks to a win over Babson in the conference title game in Northampton.

The Smith College women’s basketball team won its fourth consecutive NEWMAC championship on Sunday thanks to a win over Babson in the conference title game in Northampton. PHOTO BY MATT RISLEY

By HANNAH BEVIS

For the Gazette

Published: 02-25-2024 6:07 PM

NORTHAMPTON – Since the 2019-20 season, the Smith College women’s basketball team has always finished at the top of their conference standings. 

That streak continued on Sunday as the Pioneer won their fourth consecutive NEWMAC championship via a 90-59 win over No. 5 Babson at Ainsworth Gymnasium (there was no championship held in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

The Beavers were hoping to pull off another upset after toppling two higher-seeded teams in No. 4 Coast Guard and No. 1 Springfield to make it to Sunday’s championship game. 

The win guaranteed the Pioneers (25-3) a spot in the NCAA tournament. Smith will find out who they’re playing (and if they’re hosting) during the Division 3 selection show at 2:30 p.m. on Monday. 

Senior Jessie Ruffner was named the MVP of the NEWMAC tournament. Ruffner finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists and has been a part of all four of those conference championship teams.

“We always talk about leaving a legacy here at Smith. For me, this being my fourth (championship), there’s a lot of pride…because we want to be dominant in the NEWMAC, we want to be dominant on the national stage,” Ruffner said.

Sunday’s win was a combination of veteran leadership and newcomers stepping up to fill big shoes. One of the highlights of the contest was first-year Hannah Martin, who rattled off seven three-pointers on nine triple attempts for a career-high 21 points.

“It's really cool playing with these experienced players who have been to the Final Four – I knew what I wanted to do when I came here, I knew that Coach had a position for me, and I just wanted to do my position as best as I could,” Martin said. “When I had the shot, I could take it but (I want to make) sure that my teammates also get their shots.” 

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Hadley’s Hampshire Mall faces foreclosure
GOP silences McGovern over Trump remarks
Looming rent hikes worry artists at Cottage Street Studios in Easthampton
Balise finds temporary home for Subaru dealership in Hadley
Officials sorting out disarray at Leverett Elementary School
Guest columnist Larry Hott: ‘Daughter of Cummington’ brings stories to the stage

The game was relatively tight during two quarters, but Smith had started to pull away by halftime; Martin drained three of her seven triples in the second frame and the Pioneers ended the first half on an 8-2 run to give them a 37-29 lead.

The home team pulled away decisively in the third quarter, holding Babson (15-13) to just 11 points while they banked 29 points of their own for a comfortable 66-40 lead going into the final quarter. 

Graduate transfer Sofia Rosa was strong in the paint, knocking down 11 points and grabbing four rebounds while dishing out three assists. First-year Selam Maher also cracked double digits with 10 points while senior Ally Yamada drained nine points; both picked up an assist and a rebound each. Jane Loo grabbed four boards and five points and first-year Maggie Fleming had six points and a pair of rebounds. 

Smith wanted to limit Babson’s second chance opportunities and out-rebounded the visitors 26-17. Its defense was also stifling, as the Beavers regularly had to force shots toward the end of the shot clock. 

“It's the balance of our attack, we’re staying pretty steady to that – our ability to either score from the interior or the ability to penetrate off the bounce and our shooters. When you have all three of those phases working for you, we’re hard to guard,” Smith head coach Lynn Hersey said. “Tonight was about us taking this championship and being aggressive to go get it. I felt like the team came through and certainly did that.”