For the first time, Girls Varsity Basketball won both the Ivy Preparatory League and the New York State Association of Independent Schools in the same season. William Bousquette ('21) recaps the Tigers' thrilling victory in the NYSAIS Championship this past Monday.
Girls Varsity Basketball Clinches NYSAIS Championship
By WILLIAM BOUSQUETTE
On Monday, February 26, Girls Varsity Basketball vied with The Masters School for the NYSAIS Division C Championship. The Tigers were competing for their second NYSAIS Championship in the past three years to cap off a dominant season, during which they won the Ivy Preparatory League for the third time in the past four years.
Dalton, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, and Masters, the No. 1 seed, both featured high paced offenses with plenty of talent. In the second half of the season, Masters averaged 65 points per game. The team featured a core group of underclassmen who were adept at creating room for open shots and driving to the basket. Masters won its two previous games in the tournament by a combined 67 points before facing Dalton. The Dalton roster had more experience, however, as four of the five Dalton starters won the State Championship together in 2016.
In the teams’ previous matchup in December, Masters topped Dalton 44-40. Other than Masters, Dalton suffered only one other loss this season, losing to Poly Prep the first time the teams went head to head. Dalton defeated Poly in the teams’ second matchup of the regular season to share the league title and prevailed over Poly 51-40 one last time in the semifinals of the NYSAIS Tournament.
During the first quarter of the championship game, players on both Masters and Dalton exhibited championship-jitters, as each team only mustered nine points in the first 8 minutes. Charlotte Leone (‘19) scored the first bucket of the game on a three-point shot.
Dalton trailed for most of the first half and the game remained close. Masters led by as many as 8 points, but Dalton went on a run towards the end of the half. To close the second quarter, Captain Elise Bousquette (‘18) hit a buzzer-beating jump shot on a pass from Toni DaCosta (‘20), closing Masters’ lead to two points. Masters had slowed the Dalton offense in the first half with full-court defensive pressure and had capitalized on the Tigers’ turnovers.
The third quarter was low scoring, with Dalton outscoring Masters 7-3 during those eight minutes. Captain Ema Schumer (‘18) bore the brunt of handling the ball against Masters’ aggressive press. Schumer and her teammates evinced great poise down the stretch, significantly limiting their turnovers in the second half. Toni DaCosta shepherded Masters’ ball handlers into the paint, where her sister, Tori DaCosta (‘21), contested shots around the basket, making it difficult for Masters players to score near the rim.
In the fourth quarter, both teams got hot on offense, trading jump shot for jump shot. With 6:03 left in the game, Captain Caleigh Ryan (‘18) sunk a clutch three-pointer to give Dalton a 33-32 lead. After Ryan’s shot, Dalton kept Masters off the scoreboard for the rest of the game. Going into the game, Dalton knew Masters’ greatest strength lied in the team’s efficient and elaborate offensive sets designed against a man defense. In turn, Dalton showed a 2-3 zone on defense that stymied Masters’ methodical offense and got them out of rhythm. In particular, Dagny Patton (‘20), who played one of the top spots on the zone, shut down Masters’ star three-point shooter.
Coach Sam Bergen said his team knew coming into the game that “[To win], we would have to play hard for 32 minutes, and a lot of players stepped up in the game to make important plays against a really good team.” Ryan echoed her coach’s sentiment, adding, “Masters was unquestionably the most talented team we had faced all season, and so everyone on the team had to be ready. Everyone on the team stepped up to the challenge and contributed [in their own way].”
Indeed, Leone, Patton, and Natalie Melas-Kyriazi (‘19) all scored on offense and penetrated Masters’ defense throughout the game to keep the offense flowing. A highlight of the game was a baseline jump shot scored by Natalie Melas-Kyriazi (‘19) in the first quarter. The basket proved to be crucial, as it hyped up the four other Dalton players on the court and sent the Dalton bench and crowd to their feet.
Over the final six minutes, the Dalton Captains combined to score 18 points, and all of them made the last shots of their careers. They combined for 43 points, 25 rebounds, and eight assists in the game. Ryan led the team with 18 points, Bousquette added five blocks, and Schumer had eight of the 25 rebounds along with two steals.
Dalton outscored Masters 26-9 in the second half of the game to bring the final score to 49-34, propelling the Tigers to their second State Championship in the past three years.
The captains all described the victory as bittersweet. Bousquette said, “Girls Varsity Basketball has been very important to me, so ending [my career] with such a dramatic win was amazing. At the same time, I realized that this was the last time I would be playing for Dalton, which is hard [to think about].”
Coach Bergen praised the girls’ mental toughness and credited their successful season to the girls’ resilience and attitude. He said: “This is one of the most mentally tough and resilient groups out there. They always competed and played hard, never taking any days off. And they always played together. They’re a special group and deserve so much credit for what they did over the course of the season. I could not be prouder of them.”