Women’s Basketball: Wildcats find their footing on foreign ground

Anumita Jain and Karen Wang

It was Feb. 14, Dublin’s Senior Night. The Gaels’ gymnasium was decked out in posters of their players and a small yet formidable crowd of about 45 Gaels, equipped with red “Beat DV” shirts, posters, a reflective sheet meant to distract the Wildcats and dormant — but not for long — spirit chants. Scattered parents from both sides also lined the bleachers. Each Dougherty senior was presented with a light pink rose and obligatory applause before Dublin took their due time in joyously celebrating their own; the Gael crowd exuded confidence.
In the first few minutes of the game, the Gael crowd’s confidence translated directly onto the scoreboard. Ten seconds in, Dublin scored a 3-pointer, and the red crowd cheered ecstatically. Dougherty, meanwhile struggled to make their shots within time or within the basket. They didn’t score until there were three minutes left on the clock when junior Amisha Kambath was given two free throws, and made both despite the Gael crowd screaming wildly to distract her. From there, the Wildcats became much more aggressive.
As for this shift, Kambath explained, “Dublin has a really good defensive press, so the game started with a lot of high intensity. It took us a bit of time to compose ourselves and find our rhythm. Once we started attacking and being able to break their press, we were able to gain more composure.”
With about two minutes left on the clock, junior Kassandra Morando made a 3-pointer; just 15 seconds later, senior Brianna Tahira made two free shots — with the same distracting antics from the Gael crowd — and gave Dougherty the lead. From then, the Wildcats increased their lead, with Kambath making a layup and senior Alyssa Cruz making a 3-pointer, with just 19 seconds left in the quarter. The first quarter ended opposite of how it started: high on Dougherty momentum and with worry hanging over the Gael crowd. The score was 12-6, in favor of the Wildcats.
The Wildcat’s momentum continued into the second quarter, with Kambath making a layup 23 seconds in. About two minutes in, Senior Kaylee Wong scored two points through free throws, despite continued distractions from the Dublin crowd. Shortly after, senior Vanessa Fukuchi scored an additional two free throws. The Wildcats’ lead had blown up. The red crowd deflated in spirit, and anxiously waited for the Gaels to make a comeback. The tide began to shift about halfway through the quarter, as the Gaels made a 3-pointer and their home crowd roared. Seconds later, Fukuchi was given two free throws, and made them both. But despite this success, the Wildcats began to struggle, with a series of missed shots, and the Gaels made up lost ground. DV resurged in the last 30 seconds, with Kambath finishing the quarter with a layup. The half ended with the Wildcats in the lead 23-17.
As the game went into halftime, on this small Dougherty lead of 5 points, there was concern from Dougherty parents — and optimism from the Gael crowd — that the Wildcats would not be able to maintain their momentum going into the second half, a pattern that has plagued them this season.
As the third quarter began, this pattern seemed to present itself, with the Gaels scoring a 3-pointer and layup, and making four free throw shots by the four-minute mark, taking the lead away from the Wildcats. Throughout the first half of the quarter, the Wildcats’ play had been largely defensive: even when they had the ball, it seemed that they were focused on preventing a Gael interception, not scoring. The frustration of the players on the court, their teammates on the bench, the scattered Dougherty parents on the bleachers and Coach Doug Vanderhorst was palpable. Vanderhorst called a timeout.
“That’s not composure … Where’s your head?” he admonished. As for the fouls that gave the Gaels free throws, and a lead, he continued, “That’s not sportsmanship!” The Wildcats all nodded, and headed back on the court.
Coach Vanderhorst’s comments seemed to resonate the Wildcats. A minute back into the game, Wong made a layup, giving the Wildcats a precarious lead: 25-24. The Gael crowd shifted uncomfortably, and cheered wildly for their team to score. A minute later, Fukuchi made a 3-pointer. Neither team scored in the last two minutes of the quarter, as a tough back and forth ensued. At the end of the quarter, the Wildcats were hanging on to their regained lead of 28-24.
Frustration brewed on both sides of the court in the final quarter, with a number out-of-bounds and fouls, resulting in turnovers. The first points of the quarter came in around the six-minute mark, with Fukuchi scoring 3 points. Two minutes later, Wong scored a layup. The Gael crowd’s energy visibly depleted, with the Wildcats in a solid 9 point lead. Dublin scored their first points of the quarter — a layup — with about three minutes left, and their fans cheered loudly. But, Dougherty’s unrelenting aggression dissipated their excitement. Wong scored a layup, and made a free throw, giving the Wildcats a 10 point lead. With just two minutes left in the game, the prospect of the Wildcats winning became likely, and the sparse Dougherty crowd matched Dublin’s initial enthusiasm. The Gaels continued to fight, making three layups and bringing the Wildcats’ lead down to four points, but the crowd seemed to already accept a Dougherty victory. However, Kambath notes that the players never felt such assuredness.
“We’ve played with Dublin for a while, so all of us knew that if we became complacent, they could come back really easily. There was never a point where I was like ‘we can relax’; I think it was like ‘we need to stay vigilant’ because the tide can turn so quickly — we were able to make a comeback when we had momentum and I knew that they would be able to do the same thing if they had momentum.”
The Gaels’ lack of momentum and subsequent frustration translated into a number of fouls, which allowed the Wildcats to win more comfortably. With just under 30 seconds remaining, Tahira made two free throws, and with 1.7 seconds remaining, she scored the final two points. The game finished in a Wildcat victory with a final score of 40-32
After the game, Coach Vanderhorst expressed satisfaction and pride, stating, “It doesn’t get a whole lot better than beating Dublin.”
He also noted that as this victory has been a confidence booster, heading into NCS.
“[We need to be] ready for any situation. We don’t know what kinds of offense or defense we will play … This win gave of momentum, and a lot of confidence.”
For some players, like Wong, this victory was a slightly more personal event.
“In my four years here, we’ve never beaten them. That was our last league game, and my last league game as a senior, so that was the best way to end my senior year for league.”
As for how the Wildcats maintained composure during the second half of the game instead of faltering like they often did, Fukuchi claims that it was due to practice and they will have to keep it up as the team heads into NCS.
“We definitely worked on composure, especially during practice, We emphasized that a lot during the season, and it definitely paid off last night. We can’t lose motivation — a lot of us are beginning to get a little tired — but we have to keep pushing through, especially if we want to get through this first round of NCS.”
However, Wong attributes their success to another factor: “It was just because it was Dublin. We really wanted to beat them.”