Finley and Revere carry Whitman to new heights.
May 29, 2016 by Katie Raynolds in Analysis with 0 comments
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Whitman looked like they’ve been here before. Many teams have reached their first semifinals only to choke in front of the crowd and under the bright lights. But not the Sweets. They executed with the efficiency and ferocity of a top tier program. And as of this afternoon, they are.
Claire Revere and Nina Finley set the tone of the game in the first few points with a set of blocks from Revere, a pair of goals between them, and a handblock from Finley on Virginia handler Tess Warner. Their tempo and precision framed the game, and they wouldn’t relent until senior Ari Lozano caught the final break throw from Finley.
Whitman has never played in a semifinal, but many of these players have been this kind of game before. Six players from their starting seven (Claire Revere, Nina Finley, Alissa Soo, Linnea Soo, Ari Lozano, and Margo Heffron) have competed at the international level, and four of them have trophies on their shelf. They know what the pressure feels like, and they welcome it.
The Sweets took control of the game early with three commanding breaks. Virginia was surprised, but nobody else should have been. Whitman has trying to earn early wins in their games all weekend, a habit they’ve developed since last year’s quarterfinals loss to Carleton. The seniors remember that loss, and now that they were past quarters, they weren’t going to make the same mistakes. They wouldn’t let Virginia back into the game.
Virginia was also playing in a National semifinal for the first time in program history, and the nerves were more obvious. Their methodical, patient offense couldn’t settle on a rhythm under Whitman’s merciless person D. In the first half, they rushed under pressure what they would have brushed off yesterday. It was reminiscent of their performance in last year’s quarterfinal against British Columbia, and although they stayed disciplined and tied to their system, they just couldn’t quite find the same page to stay on.
“We were out of sync,” said Virginia coach David Allison. “To Whitman’s credit, they did a lot to make it harder for us… but part of it was us not clicking the way we have all the way through the tournament.”
Virginia had weathered the terrors of Oregon’s defense and the phenomenon of Jaclyn Verzuh, but they weren’t ready for the “buzzsaw,” as Allison called it, that was Whitman’s defense. Hydra’s nerves settled in the second half, but it was too little too late.
Whitman never settled.
“This game proves we are an elite team when it matters most,” said Whitman coach Ben McGinn. “We have the experience to know how to start a game, how to play through, and how to win a game.”
The semifinal was more than a step in the bracket or one game in the championship weekend. Win or lose, both teams were making program history with every pass. Whitman and Virginia were playing with years of history and crowds of alumni behind them.
Four years ago, Whitman was a D-III team that won and lost on a regional stage. Today, they’re one of the top two teams in the country.
“I can’t really fathom it right now,” gushed Whitman captain Marlena Sloss. “To think back to where our team was three years ago… it’s just crazy. I’m in shock, and so happy right now.”
Virginia lost, but they also fought their way from 13th to 3rd in a weekend, taking down legends in their stead. Whitman won and earned another day to play together and another chance to add a chapter to this team’s legacy. Both groups showed that they are more than teams; they are programs. But Whitman can show they are even more than that. They can show they are champions.