Jack Milko ’20
Back on Nov. 9, in what many may consider as “simpler times,” the Holy Cross women’s basketball team opened up its season in the Land of Lincoln, taking on the Fighting Illini of the University of Illinois. The Illini are members of the Big Ten athletic conference, which is categorized as a “Power Five” conference. Power Five schools have the most money, largest arenas, and typically, the best teams. In addition, this game proved to be a homecoming of sorts for senior Kathryn Pedi, who is a Chicago native. With all of this in mind, the Crusaders were not intimidated by the Illini whatsoever. Holy Cross came out roaring in the first half and took a 37-28 lead into the locker room at halftime. Unfortunately for HC, Illinois picked up the pace in the second half and Holy Cross missed some shots down the stretch, and the Crusaders ended up losing in overtime 78-75. Senior Lauren Manis finished the game with 22 points and 21 rebounds, which served as an early indication that her senior season would be a historic one.
Four nights later, Holy Cross played host to another Power Five foe, in-state rival Boston College. Holy Cross began the game on a 9-1 run which culminated in senior Madalyn Smith converting a traditional three-point play with 4:58 to go in the first half. The Crusaders never looked back as they dominated the game wire-to-wire. The Eagles appeared all out of sorts for the entire game as Holy Cross claimed its first victory over a Power Five school since 2014. Senior Megan Swords finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds, her eighth career double-double at the time. Junior Jenay Faulkner also had 16 points in the home opener at the Hart Center. For the Crusaders to start the season against two Power Five schools, and to dominate one game and to lose the other by the narrowest of margins, is quite impressive for a small Patriot League school such as Holy Cross. Certainly, this five day stretch to open up the season was one of the highlights of the season.
The Crusaders would continue to win the next three games against Bryant, Merrimack, and Brown. Each victory resulted in Holy Cross winning by double-digits. On Dec. 4, the Crusaders trekked down to the Ocean State to take on the Rhode Island Rams. Trailing by only one entering the fourth quarter, Rhode Island outscored Holy Cross 25-11 in the final frame. Unfortunately, sometimes shots just do not fall. This was the case during those last ten minutes at the Ryan Center in Kingston. Thus, the Crusaders suffered their second loss of the season. In their next contest, Holy Cross trekked down the Massachusetts Turnpike in Amherst to play against the UMass Minutewomen. Like an excited derby horse barreling out of the gate, Holy Cross raced out to an 18-9 lead in the first quarter. Unfortunately for the Crusaders, they began to run out of steam and ended up losing by three, 75-72. Holy Cross shot just 35% from the field as UMass converted 50% of their shots from the floor. For the first time this season, Holy Cross found themselves on a losing streak.
That skid did not last long, however, as Holy Cross would go on to win three of its next four, with victories over Sacred Heart, New Hampshire, and Stetson. Over the Christmas break, the Crusaders made the trip down to Florida to take on the North Florida Ospreys and the Stetson Hatters. In the game against the Ospreys, outside of Jacksonville, Holy Cross found themselves down two points heading into the final frame. Similar to the game against Rhode Island, the wheels came off for Holy Cross as they were outscored 24-6 in the fourth. North Florida ended up winning 80-60. Roughly 48 hours later, down in Deland, Florida—which is situated between Daytona Beach and Orlando—Holy Cross found themselves in a back-and-forth game with Stetson. Unlike the games against URI and North Florida, the Crusaders dominated the fourth quarter, outscoring the Hatters by 10, which resulted in a 75-63 Crusader victory. With the Florida swing now in their rearview mirror, so was their non-conference season. Holy Cross finished its non-conference slate with a record of 8-4.
The Patriot League is deemed a “mid-major,” which is a conference that consists of academically focused schools or smaller schools with limited budgets. Of course, the Patriot League consists of ten excellent academic institutions, including our own Holy Cross. Mid-major schools only will send one team to the NCAA Tournament. Exceptions can be made however, but only in the rarest of circumstances. If Holy Cross ran the table in non-conference play, and then suffered only two or three losses during the course of the Patriot League season, then the Crusaders would have most likely been awarded a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, this was not the case this year for Holy Cross, nor any Patriot League team for that matter. Thus, the path to the NCAA Tournament lies within the Patriot League Conference Tournament. More often than not, the winner of the Patriot League Championship comes from one of the top four teams in the standings. This is because the top four teams receive a bye into the quarterfinals; those four teams also host those quarterfinal matchups. For these reasons, conference play for Holy Cross carries a tremendous amount of weight. Especially given that this year’s team returned 99.8% of their scoring and its entire starting lineup. The 2020 Class desperately wanted an opportunity at a Patriot League Championship and an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Holy Cross began the Patriot League schedule winning six of its first nine league games in the month of January. The Crusaders lost to Bucknell and Army by double digits and lost to Boston University in overtime. As the calendar flipped to February, Holy Cross seemed like they would be in good position to secure a top four seed in the Patriot League tournament. With this in mind, the Crusaders dropped their first two contests against Colgate and Boston University once again. Thus, on Feb. 12, Holy Cross played host to a desperate Lehigh team. Following a sluggish opening quarter, the Crusaders led the Mountainhawks 12-8. In the second quarter, Lehigh caught a spark while the Crusaders fell flat on their feet. In perhaps the worst quarter of the season, Lehigh outscored Holy Cross 28-10 to hold a 36-22 lead at halftime. The struggles continued in the beginning of the third quarter and with 4:37 left in the third, Lehigh held a 24-point lead. Then the tides began to turn. The Crusaders began to comeback with a 10-2 run; to close out the third quarter, Madalyn Smith nailed a three to cut the deficit to nine heading into the final frame. The Crusaders went on to outscore Lehigh 21-9 in the fourth quarter, which resulted in a 65-62 Holy Cross victory. In calling this game for WCHC, I exclaimed: “What a comeback! What a victory. This could be the turning point that Holy Cross needed.” This game was indeed the turning point as the Crusaders would only drop two more games the rest of the way. And yes, Holy Cross did end up securing a top four seed for the Patriot League Tournament. The Crusaders finished the regular season with an 18-11 record and a fourth-place finish in the Patriot League. In the regular season finale, against Loyola, not only did the Crusaders win handedly, but Senior Lauren Manis scored her 2,000th career point. To go along with her 1,188 rebounds, not only is she the only player in Holy Cross history to amass 2,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds, but she is also the all-time leading rebounder in Patriot League history. The senior from Franklin, Mass., had quite the career at Holy Cross, and unfortunately for her and for every collegiate athlete, it was all cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the very least, Holy Cross got to play in one postseason game—playing host to Lafayette in the Patriot League Quarterfinals. In the best defensive performance all season, the Crusaders dominated from start to finish as they prevailed 52-33. The game was played on Monday, March 9. At that point in time, nobody knew that the sports world would come to a screeching halt less than 72 hours later. The Crusaders were due to play in Pennsylvania against Bucknell on Thursday, March 12. The game was canceled, along with the rest of the Patriot League Tournament, just hours before the scheduled tipoff.
To sum things up on this rollercoaster ride of a season, seniors Kathryn Pedi and Nicole Morris provided the following statement from the team: “We are all very disappointed our season had to end the way it did. This team was something special and it’s unfortunate we didn’t have the chance to make a run in the [Patriot League Championship]. We were able to accomplish a lot this season by beating BC and having the best overall record since we have been a part of the program. We’re very fortunate to have been part of this team with memories and friendships that will last forever.” A season of so many highs was cut short by something completely out of anyone’s control. It’s not as if this issue is unique to Holy Cross, Massachusetts, or the United States; it’s the entire world. This is a circumstance that will shape future generations and will be talked about forever. At the very least, we should all consider ourselves fortunate that the Holy Cross women’s team had the opportunity to compete and achieve so much during its 2019-20 campaign. To conclude, I would like to say that on behalf of everyone at The Spire, we would like to wish seniors Lauren Manis, Nicole Morris, Kathryn Pedi, Madalyn Smith, and Megan Swords the best of luck in their future endeavors.