ERIE, Pa. — Bentley women’s basketball coach Barbara Stevens has been up front about expectations this season.
The confidence she exudes and the experience of her seniors have the Falcons just one win from a perfect season and the program’s first national championship.
“It’s an incredible feeling for me and for our team and everyone involved in Bentley women’s basketball to be sitting here right now,” said Stevens at the national championship news conference on Thursday. “This was certainly something when we started off our season in November that we had a dream of doing. To get to the national championship game is something we talked about and didn’t shy away from talking about.
“Although it did not dominate our converstations, we felt like with the group of seniors we have and the returning team from last year that we had a shot at sitting here and talking about playing for a championship.”
Top-ranked Bentley (34-0) faces fifth-ranked West Texas A&M (32-2) at Erie Insurance Arena on Friday in the NCAA Division 2 title game.
The Falcons dominated the East Regional, winning by an average of 15 points. After grinding out a 74-66 win over Drury (Mo.) in the Elite Eight and a 77-62 victory against Cal Poly Pomona in the Final Four, Bentley is one win away from giving Stevens, a legendary coach with more than 900 wins, her national title.
“She’s a great coach and I’ve absolutely loved playing here for five years now,” said guard Courtney Finn. “It would mean the world to us to give her a national championship. She deserves this and we’d love to bring her a title.”
The Falcons haven’t lost a game since a 53-51 setback against Dowling in last year’s Elite Eight. Bentley and its seniors have been in redemption mode ever since.
“It has hit us a little bit, but we’re trying not to think about it and focus more on the game,” senior Lauren Battista said. “All seven of us know it’s the last time we’ll suit up for Bentley, but what better way to go out than playing for a national championship? We’re content with our careers ending in this game, especially after what happened last year. Ever since that loss, we’ve thought about wanting to be here in Erie.”
Battista leads the Falcons with a 17.5-point average, while Finn averages 15.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. Senior Jacqui Brugliera and freshman Jen Gemma avera 10.3 and 10.2 points, respectively.
Brugliera could play an integral role in the championship game, as she has been counted on as the team’s top post defender. Brugliera shut down Drury’s 6-foot-7-inch forward, Amber Dvorak, in the Elite Eight before battling Cal Poly Pomona All-American Jada Blackwell in the Final Four. Tonight, Brugliera will have to slow down Chontiquah White, a 5-11 forward who has 38 points and 27 rebounds in the last two games .
“Jacqui did a great job defending Amber Dvorak on Tuesday and she knew her role was to defend and rebound,” Stevens said. “On Wednesday, we thought she could be more of an offensive threat and we were able to unleash her inside. She has done an outstanding job for us in whatever role we need her in.”
White averages 14.4 points and 7.1 rebounds, while forward Devin Griffin averages 15.1 points and 7.0 rebounds. West Texas A&M also leads the nation in assists per game, field goal percentage, and 3-point percentage. The Lady Buffs entered the Elite Eight averaging 19.2 assists, shooting 47.8 percent from the field, and 39.9 percent from behind the arc.
Knowing what’s at stake, the Bentley faithful have been loud all week. There could also be several buses of students traveling from Waltham, Mass., to support the Falcons.
“The support has been great this year,” Battista said. “They’ve been holding viewing parties in our gym on a big screen all week. Erie is driveable from campus, so I think there will be some students coming and we’ve had a lot of support from other student athletes. We’ve had great fans all week and our president is our biggest super fan. Hopefully, we can win a championship for Bentley.”