Monday, February 27, 2012

Division III Mary Washington, still perfect, NCAA Tournament bound

The University of Mary Washington Eagles made a vow last year after a loss to Wesley College in the Capital Athletic Conference semifinals.

No regrets.

There have been none since. The Eagles are 27-0, ranked seventh nationally in the USA Today Division III poll. They are hosts to the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, which begins Friday. Mary Washington meets Keuka (NY) at 7 pm, at the William M Anderson Center on the campus in Fredericksburg, Va. Messiah College and Kean play in the first game at 4:30 pm. The winner of Saturday's subregional final meets on Monday at 7 p.m. for a spot in the Sweet 16.

Deena Applebury
"Our chemistry is amazing," said Mary Washington coach Deena Applebury, the architect behind the eight greatest seasons in program history. "All of our kids have each other's backs. It doesn't matter if the No. 1 scorer is out there or the No. 13 scorer. They all cheer for each other."

In Applebury's second year as coach, she led the Eagles to a 23-7 finish, 11 more wins than the previous year. By 2006-07, Mary Washington was in the Final Four. Applebury was named the WBCA National Coach of the Year after the 31-3 season. Her career mark is 215-46.

This season's Eagles are as balanced a team as Applebury has had. Leading scorers Jenna McRae, a 5-11 senior out of Annandale High School, and 5-9 senior Katie Wimmer , a 5-9 senior from James Madison High, average 12.8 and 12.7 ppg, respectively. The Eagles have a plus 9.8 rebound advantage, yet no player averages more than 5.4 rpg. Mary Washington is holding opponents to .295 percent shooting and has had 130 fewer turnovers than its opponents.

Motivation has never wavered since the conference tournament loss a year ago. Wesley hit a game-winning shot with 13 seconds left and Mary Washington's shot at the buzzer did not fall in the 54-53 loss.

"We lost by one point to a team we had beaten twice," Applebury said. "Our kids really bonded and decided the next time they lost it wasn't going to be because they weren't prepared; it wasn't going to be because we overlooked anybody."

Mary Washington did not receive an at-large bid last season, and notes Applebury, "We didn't want to get used to not being in the tournament."

Their closest games of this season came in the CAC Tournament. Mary Washington needed to rally from six back to defeat Marymount 64-62 in the semifinals before beating York College 52-48 in Saturday's championship.

While Mary Washington doesn't get the national glory that an unbeaten Division I team would, Applebury said she is grateful for the community and faculty support at the college. She has received offers to coach elsewhere but says this.

"I've been content here through the years. I've checked into some things, but I've come to the conclusion that this is where I want to stay."

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