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Friday, June 21, 2024
The Eagle

Eagles ready to take care of business

In Women's Basketball head coach Shann Hart's four years at AU, this weekend will be the biggest yet. This Friday, the Eagles enter the Patriot League tournament as the second seed in their attempt to win the league and earn an NCAA tournament bid.

"We're a little disappointed with the season we had, as I thought we'd win the league, but second seed is great," Hart said. "We've definitely got something to prove."

The Eagles may have lucked out when examining the brackets. They open Friday at 5 p.m. against Navy, which they defeated twice during the season. Should they advance to the second round, they would face either third-seeded Lehigh (which they split against this year) or Army, a team the Eagles swept but which knocked them out in the second round of last year's tournament. In total, AU is 5-1 against their first and potential second-round opponents.

"There's definitely some unfinished business with Army," Hart said. "I told the girls that we owed them one and I still feel that way."

If AU can get to the final, it would either travel to top-seeded Colgate or, if the Raiders lose, the championship game would be Wednesday night at Bender Arena against either Holy Cross, Bucknell or Lafayette.

This weekend could offer the last games for seniors Chanel Spriggs, Kaitlyn Schuyler, Angel McNatt and Courtney Spellacy.

Spriggs, who followed Hart to AU from St. Mary's, could be playing her final game for her coach of five years.

"For me, this is a must-win game," Spriggs said, who finished the season second in the nation in steals. "We must stay focused and realize exactly what's at stake."

The Eagles' big challenge in the first round will be stopping Navy's superstar, Courtney Davidson, who averaged 17 points per game this season. While Spriggs is a defensive specialist, she will not be guarding Davidson, who will see a combination of looks defensively, from Chanel Hunt to McNatt and Kim Salem.

The key for the Eagles this weekend could be their leading scorer, Hunt, who has been inconsistent this year. Her 11 points and seven rebounds per game lead the Eagles into the tournament, and she has the potential to explode and carry her team on her back.

"Chanel Hunt can turn it on and be the best player in this league. It's just up to her," Hart said.

One problem for the Eagles may be the injury bug. Starting point guard Joanna Barnes, sharpshooter Angel Jordan and sparkplug freshman Tara Williams are all battling minor injuries, but should be ready for the tournament.

If Barnes can't go, McNatt will probably start. Either way, she'll see significant minutes as her production has increased as the season has progressed.

"McNatt will be required and expected to give us a defensive spark as our sixth man," Hart said.

On the other side of the bracket, Colgate opens up against 1-26 Lafayette, which is full of confidence after knocking off the Eagles in their season finale. They will be looking to do the Eagles a favor now and knock out the Raiders.

Holy Cross opens against Bucknell, a team it lost to this past weekend in Worcester, Mass. The winners of those two games play Sunday. If Colgate wins both games, it will host the final. Otherwise, AU would have a chance to host if it wins its side of the bracket.

At the risk of sounding overconfident, Hart knows what a home championship game would do for her program.

"I wouldn't mind seeing Holy Cross come out of that side," Hart said. "As far as I'm concerned, that's another debt that needs to be paid."

For Spriggs, she enters her final games knowing that the Eagles can essentially control their own destiny.

All season long, Hart has pounded her team with the defensive mentality that it takes to be successful in this league. She has amassed a 9-5 league record, and the Eagles are giving up a league-best 59 points per game, four less than second-place Army.

"This team works hard, putting in more than 20 hours per week and juggling that with their schoolwork," said Hart of her drill-sergeant-like style.

Hunt, Spriggs and Schuyler, all averaging over 10 points per game, will be key this weekend, but so will the role players. Junior center Kim Salem, who has emerged as a solid low-post presence, and Barnes must play well, as must Williams, McNatt and Jordan from the perimeter. Jordan has the potential to stretch defenses and allow Hunt and Salem to go to work inside.

Holy Cross and Army aren't the only teams that AU would like to see at some point in the tournament. Still reeling from an embarrassing 79-61 home loss to Colgate two weeks ago, the Eagles would like to avenge the last-second, rub-it-in three-pointer taken by Colgate's Malissa Burke and the bench-clearing celebration that ensued.

When the Eagles roll up to Show Place Arena on Friday, there's no denying that this is strictly a business trip. Hart, Spriggs and the rest of the Eagles' ship has an appointment with Navy and hopes to stay in business through the end of the month. If they are forced to close up shop for the summer, next year will look pretty far away for Hart, who's losing two of her top guns.

But the offseason is for lamenting on what's lost. Now is a time for thinking of what may be gained ... a trip to the NCAA tournament.

As the semester comes to an end and one of the founding members leaves American University, Section 202 has decided to take a trip down memory lane. For our fans, old and new, who are wondering how Section 202 came to be, this episode is a must. Listen along as hosts Connor Sturniolo and Liah Argiropoulos reminisce about the beginning of Section 202 and how it got to where it is now.

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