When I sat down with my popcorn to watch the women’s basketball team play Elmira on Dec. 10 in the Empire 8 Opener, I thought my snack might be the most exciting thing I’d experience for the next hour. The crowd — not that it was crowded — quietly waited for the game to start, the player’s squeaking sneakers easily overpowering the unfocused chatter — even the announcer sounded glum.
While the crowd was somewhat lackluster, the girls themselves were anything but. RIT scored the opening basket, gave up the next bucket to Elmira, then went on a run that would ensure the Soaring Eagles would stay a comfortable 10 to 15 points behind the rest of the game. The game moved quickly at first; most of it was like a pinball game — the ball bouncing off bodies, backboards and rims made for some exciting play.
With about 8 minutes left in the first half, six shirtless men bearing orange letters across their chests ascended the bleachers. As the students traveled to the top, the crowds’ eyes ping-ponged back and forth between them and the game, trying to figure out what strange message was to be delivered via their painted skin. After some rearranging of the letters it eventually read: “L-E-S-L-I-E.” As in Leslie Havens, second year Biomedical Engineering major, last year’s Empire 8 Rookie of the Year, and a mighty keen presence on this year’s team. One of the officials noticed the men cheering for Leslie and the giant photograph of her held by two girls; Leslie laughed to him, “I don’t even know them.”
Apparently their methods were effective though, as seconds after they began their cheers, Havens scored a beautiful three-point shot to increase the Tigers’ lead to 14. Perhaps emboldened by RIT’s dominance thus far, the crowd broke their silence and began getting into the game. With five minutes left in the half, the crowd was cheering after every play as the team controlled the court. At the buzzer, the Tigers held a 39-25 lead. The crowd stayed on board through the second half, but as the minutes waned on it was apparent that fatigue was setting in for both teams. At this point, though, it hardly mattered — the crowd was in high spirits, the Tigers were ahead, and naturally, “Space Jam” continued to play over the loudspeakers. The RIT women had just enough in them for a final drive to send the crowd home happy with a Tiger victory and a final score of 72-57.
Overall, the girls were pleased with how things turned out. First year Environmental Management major Mallory Apperson mentioned that they could always play better but “it was good to get this first conference game under our belt and start the season with a win.” Apperson had 6 points for the night and an impressive 8 rebounds. Havens finished the game with a total of 17 points and five rebounds in her 37 minutes of play. Also putting up impressive numbers was first year Business Management major Courtney Tennant, who scored 28 points and garnered nine rebounds.
What these numbers fail to convey is how these girls play together; every player contributed to the win against Elmira. Nothing can express this better than the play that opened the second half: the Tigers got the ball and moved down the court in several quick passes. Third year Biomedical Science major Anne Wapshare was first to go to the hoop, then Apperson. Around and around the ball went, going to every player until literally the last second on the shot clock — Haven’s jump shot sinking into the basket just as the time clock expired.
Those kinds of moments made up this game, and when the crowd came to appreciate all the teamwork and skill that goes into making a play, the girls in turn worked harder. As Wapshare said, “As long as we keep playing together, we’ll be able to win like how we did tonight.”