On the schedule, a run came to an end this past week, as seniors Eliza Polli and Madeline Ross played in their Senior Day game against Franklin & Marshall. But the Garnet are just beginning what they hope will be a long run to close the season: with last week’s win against Washington (Md.), Swarthmore clinched its first Centennial Conference playoff berth since the 2004–5 season. The Garnet remain tied for first place in the conference standings with Gettysburg.
Ross described making the playoffs as “incredible,” adding that the decade-long playoff drought meant that “to finally break that barrier feels amazing in itself.” Polli agreed, pointing out, “My coach has never made it to playoffs and to be a part of the leadership on this team to get us there is an amazing feeling.”
While the seniors’ experiences help them to appreciate this year’s success, the impact of the team’s achievement was not lost on younger players. “It is amazing to be part of something so special in [my] first year at Swarthmore,” Jessica Jowdy ’16 said. “Making [the] playoffs has shown us what it takes to succeed on the collegiate level.” She added that early success provides a drive for the future: “It inspires us to want to continue this tradition for our future years playing Swarthmore basketball.”
Making the playoffs isn’t enough though, as the Garnet still have a chance to earn the top seed and home court advantage in the conference tournament by winning out in the regular season. Accordingly, the players made sure to take care of business against Franklin & Marshall. Swarthmore jumped out to an early lead, but the Diplomats fought their way back into the game by the end of the first half.
Coming out of the break, the Garnet had a run of inspired play, pulling away by as many as 14 points. Although F&M made an effort to make a comeback, the Diplomats could get no closer than within three points.
Swarthmore was led for the second game in a row by Elle Larsen ’15, who scored 20 points. Katie Lytle ’14 added 16 of her own, along with 17 rebounds for her 16th double-double of the season.
While underclassmen have been leading the team in recent games this season, Jowdy attributed that to the leadership provided by Ross and Polli. “They are such encouraging and supportive people. Whenever anyone on our team is getting frustrated or finds themselves doubting their abilities, Madge and Eli are always there to pick them back up. And this is very important for the underclassmen.” She added that their support was a key to the team’s performance. “Madge and Eliza are two of the most driven individuals I have ever met. Their leadership on and off the court has had such an impact on our team and has really helped us come together…Their unwavering confidence makes you start believing in yourself, and that is the biggest improvement we have made this season.”
With just games to go in their collegiate careers, the seniors find each day bittersweet. Ross said, “Everyone always told me that college and my basketball career would fly by, and now that it’s already approaching the end, I finally believe them. Every second counts for me now, and I am so lucky to have been granted a few extra practices and games to spend with such a special group of players and coaches.” She added that she was thankful for the team chemistry displayed this season: “To have a team that genuinely wants to play for as long as humanly possible, just so their seniors could have even a few more games, a few more practices together, I could not have asked for more.”
For Polli, this year has had a storybook ending. “It’s incredible to end my career on such a high note. I am so blessed.” Ross agreed, saying, “To be able to go out on such an outstanding, thrilling note is just all I could ask for.” She added, “I feel so lucky to have experienced both highs and lows, successes and failures, in my basketball career, and to have been given such a wonderful privilege to lead this team as a captain my senior year.”
Although usually Senior Day comes on the final home game of seniors’ careers, the Garnet had one game yet–last night’s matchup against Bryn Mawr. In the annual “Play4Kay” game, the Garnet got an early lead and ran away against the Owls, prevailing 82-35 for their 19th win this season. In a game where all players saw significant playing time, Polli and Jowdy led the offense with 18 points apiece, while Lytle put together yet another double-double off 11 points and 17 rebounds.
The regular season finale is this Saturday at Haverford. There will be a fan bus available for those wishing to attend; tip-off is at 1 p.m.. The Centennial Conference playoffs will follow, with opponent, location, and time to be determined.