By Jacob Rzempoluch, Sports Editor
The Saint Vincent Bearcats trailed the Chatham Cougars for the first 28 minutes of the Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) championship game, but once they took the lead they never looked back. A pair of free throws made by Madison Weber, senior psychology major, gave the Bearcats a 40-38. SVC would never trail Chatham again.
Despite falling behind early in the Feb. 25 matchup, a strong defense kept the Bearcats within striking distance for the entire game. SVC trailed by seven at the half, but held Chatham to 22 points in the second half, and only a single three-pointer on 18 attempts. Defense has been a strong point all season as the Bearcats lead all of NCAA DIII in opponent field goal percentage defense (27.9%) and rank fifth in defensive rebounds per game (33.5). SVC is also home to the PAC Defensive Player of the Year, junior communication major Alana Winkler.
“Our defense fuels our offense,” Emily Cavacini, junior psychology major, explained.
Saint Vincent demonstrated this by outsourcing Chatham 45-22 in the second half as their defense tightened up. In the fourth quarter, the Bearcats gradually built their lead until the Cougars resorted to fouling in hopes of grasping a last second victory. Cavacini was named the PAC Tournament MVP after a strong performance in the Championship, scoring 22 points and making 14 foul shots without missing a single one, many in the climatic final minutes of the game. The energy in the Robert S. Carey Center for the championship game was electric, with over a thousand Chatham and Saint Vincent fans in attendance, with a significant SVC “white out” student section.
The Bearcats were voted to finish sixth in the PAC coach’s poll before the start of the season, but quickly showed that they had far greater things in mind for the season.
“Coming off of last year, we struggled a little bit with our record, but we really were basically the same team,” Cavacini stated. “But it definitely did fuel us, it made us want to prove to people that even though you have a bad season you can come back.”
One of the most notable regular season victories for the Bearcats was their 57-53 triumph over the nationally ranked Washington & Jefferson Presidents. The senior day victory over the 23rd ranked team was the culmination of a 11-game win streak that sent a message to the conference. Despite ending a successful regular season second in the Pac standings, the Bearcats expected to be challenged in the PAC tournament.
“We knew that every game we were going to play was a dogfight,” said Cavacini.
In both their first and second round victories over the Bethany Bison and the Westminster Titans, the Bearcats exploded in the second half to win each game by a solid margin. Despite facing a talented Chatham team that upset the top seeded W&J squad, the Bearcats approached the championship match up like any other.
In addition to Cavacini’s MVP honors, Weber and Ella Marconi, senior nursing major, were named to the all tournament team. Cavacini was also named first team all-conference while Weber and Marconi made the second team and honorable mentions respectively.
As PAC champions, the Bearcats receive an automatic bid to the NCAA DIII tournament. Coach Jimmy Petruska has coached past Bearcat teams to the tournament, most recently in 2019. However, none of the current Bearcat athletes have competed in the tournament during their career. The Bearcats faced SUNY Cortland on March 3 and hope to make a deep run to end a strong season.