In the first year of Jill Pace’s tenure as Tufts women’s basketball coach, her Jumbos are 25-0 and atop the Division 3 rankings. Having put together its first undefeated regular season, Tufts will host the NESCAC semifinals and championship game this weekend at Cousens Gym in Medford.
Pace, formerly the head coach at Pomona Pitzer, was an assistant at Tufts from 2014-16 under Carla Berube, now Princeton’s head coach.
“I knew that we could be this good,” said Pace, “but I’m not sure that any coach really expects an undefeated season. But as we went along, it became realistic.
“We talk about going game by game, which resulted in no losses, which is great.”
Erica DeCandido, a senior captain, remembers an early-season meeting when Pace set the expectations. The players appreciated her willingness to take input from them.
“Her being able to be a part of the program and then coming back to it, she knew what she wanted to do to make it her own,” DeCandido said. “She did a really good job of gradually changing.”
Tufts will play Williams (18-7, 6-4) in Saturday’s first semifinal at noon. Fifth-ranked Bowdoin (23-2, 8-2) plays sixth-ranked Amherst (22-3, 8-2) in the other one at 2 p.m. The winners play in Sunday’s title game at noon.
As a 2012 Bowdoin graduate, Pace played and coached in the NESCAC, and understands the significance of the conference’s final four featuring three of the country’s top six teams.
“It’s going to be a really exciting environment when you get to conference championship play,” Pace said. “You want the best teams to be there and have it be the best competition.”
DeCandido leads the Jumbos with 15.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. Junior Emily Briggs and sophomore Molly Ryan each average 11.5 points per game.
Westwood native and senior guard Cailin Harrington (7.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg) is the lone Massachusetts-born starter. Sophomore guard Sophia Rosa, a Lincoln-Sudbury alum, is averaging 8.7 points off the bench.
The Jumbos are going with the same approach they have used all season.
“We have been a defensive-focused team all season and we played great defense against Wesleyan last weekend, so that’s what we’ll be bringing this weekend,” Pace said. “As far as I am concerned, we have one game tomorrow, focusing on that, staying in the moment.”
It’s the same for the players, especially the senior class.
“We just keep emphasizing that we’re only guaranteed one game,” DeCandido said.
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The Tufts men’s team (19-6, 8-2) is also hosting the NESCAC semifinals and final this weekend. Semifinals are at 5 and 7 p.m. Saturday, with the championship to follow the women’s game Sunday.Greg Levinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GregLevinsky.