After a decade and a half of waiting, the Geneseo women's basketball team is back atop the SUNYAC.
After defeating SUNY Cortland in the semifinal round on Friday, the Knights won their fourth SUNYAC championship in program history by defeating second-seeded SUNY Oneonta, 55-48 on Saturday.
"We anticipated … that this could be a very interesting season for us and that we could do some special things," said head coach Scott Hemer. "But I'm not sure I ever imagined them being as consistent as they've been this year in terms of winning."
To be exact, the Knights have won 25 games, achieved a 15-game winning streak and have gone undefeated on their home court. "It was something special to be a part of. That's a script you just can't write going into the season," Hemer said.
As dominant as the Knights have been this season, the championship game was not without suspense as the Knights found themselves down on more than one occasion. The Red Dragons led by six points early in the first half, but Geneseo rebounded with a 9-0 run capped off by a clutch 3-pointer from first team All-Conference junior Bri Dunton.
Unlike in the Knights' two previous playoff games where they led comfortably at halftime, Geneseo clung to a slim two-point lead halfway through the match. Instead of panicking, however, the Knights maintained a steady confidence, as though they already knew how the game would turn out.
"Surprisingly enough, I had a real easy calm going into the second half of that game because it was almost as if I knew that when push comes to shove, they've been through this before and they would be fine," Hemer said.
"I think I was more nervous during the first two playoff games than I was during the championship. I just felt that our players had shown enough moxie to that point in the season and there was no need to worry."
During the second half, momentum continued to shift back and forth as Oneonta built a five-point lead only to see it disappear at the hands of a 13-2 run by the Knights. Dunton again made a key contribution, this time with a fast break layup that not only put Geneseo up by six but also quieted the visiting Oneonta crowd.
The Red Dragons remained in striking distance, however, cutting the lead to two on a layup by senior Erika Puffer with just over a minute left. But like so many times before, the Knights stepped up. Tournament Most Valuable Player Brittany Finkle made a clutch layup with 55 seconds left and Dunton made three of four foul shots in the waning seconds. Finkle finished the game with 14 points, six rebounds and four assists and Dunton added 14 points of her own.
"It was a team effort," said Finkle. "It feels really good as a senior for the whole season to end like this … We never let up, we had confidence in each other and knew this is where we were going to be and we never lost focus of that."
Senior Khadija Campbell, who scored a team-high 21 points against Cortland, finished with nine points and eight rebounds in the championship game and was an All-Tournament team selection along with Finkle and sophomore Melissa Graham.
Saturday's championship victory caps off a long road back to prominence for the Knights, who hadn't seen extended success since the late 1990s.
"They set a bar that's just about has high as it gets," Hemer said. "Not only because of what they've done in terms of the winning percentage for the program but what they've done to create a new culture, a winning culture, a culture of good team chemistry. That will end up being part of their legacy and I hope that is what continues to be remembered by the young ladies in the program moving forward."
The Knights play host to a pair of first round games on Friday and a second round game on Saturday after receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament following their win over the Red Dragons. Geneseo will face DeSales University (19-8) on Friday at 8 p.m.
All season the Knights were driven by the axiom that no matter what happened, there were to be no excuses.
When they lost a pair of early non-conference games, there were no excuses.
When they were down 20 points to Buffalo State at halftime, there were no excuses.
When they felt the lead slipping away late in the second half on Saturday, there were no excuses. Now that the Knights have been crowned SUNYAC champions they will be able to look back without regrets.
"It's tough to find young adults who are willing to commit to [the team], and not only did they commit to that but they made it an artwork, and it has been fun to watch," Hemer said. "I'm just appreciative that they were willing to take me along for the ride."