Early exit

The UTD women’s basketball team prepares for its first round game against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps during the NCAA Division III Tournament on March 3. The Comets lost in a 79-63 decision, ending their tournament and their 12 game win streak, a school record. The team finished the season with a 25-4 record, one win short of the school record of 26, held by the 2014-2015 team that made the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Photo by Ankith Averineni | Mercury Staff.

The UTD women’s basketball team was eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament following a loss to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.

The Comets suffered a 79-63 loss on March 3 after blowing an early 10-point lead. Senior guard Kayla Reinhart, who transferred into the program this season, had five points and five rebounds in her 35 minutes of play.

“I definitely could not have asked for a better way to finish my basketball career,” Reinhart said. “Obviously I would’ve liked to go out on a win, but only one team gets to do that.”

The UTD earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament following their third ASC championship in five years. After defeating Sul Ross State and Mary-Hardin Baylor on Feb. 23 and 24, UTD advanced to the title game on Feb. 25. The Comets defeated Louisiana by a score of 67-60, during a game in which they never trailed. The tournament victory comes after a 25-3 season, extending their win streak to 12 games, beating the record they set earlier this season.

The tournament’s MVP award was given to senior guard Alyssa Crockett. Reinhart and senior forward Micaela Gonzalez were named to the All-Tournament team along with Crockett. Winning the ASC title was the goal from the beginning of the season.

“It’s nothing short of amazing,” Gonzalez said. “It’s really dreams coming true. It’s that special.”

Going into the year, the team worked on its conditioning to prepare for the ASC tournament.

“Before we even touched a basketball, we had the mindset that we were going to come in and work as hard as possible every single day,” Gonzalez said.

The game was the third in three days, posing a mental and physical challenge for the players. Head coach Polly Thomason combatted fatigue with an emphasis on defense and rebounding, which were focal points all season for the team.

“We kept working, we kept fighting and we kept finding ways to get points when we needed them,” Thomason said.

The athletes worked with the trainers to keep them physically ready for the potential stretch of three games in three days, but it also involved self-discipline, Reinhart said.

“Mentally, that’s on each individual player on their own to make sure that they’re checked in, focused and ready to go,” she said. “I think everybody did a really great job of that.”

Although the Comets never trailed in the game, Louisiana still kept it close except for a 13-point deficit during the third quarter. Louisiana was ranked second in offensive rebounds during the season.

“We never could really pull away from Louisiana, because they were hot,” Thomason said. “We knew coming in that they were going to be a challenge.”

After the win, the athletes celebrated by going out to dinner and bringing the trophy with them to the restaurant before heading back to UTD.

“We had a little karaoke party on the bus, just jamming and singing,” Thomason said. “We had a really good trip on the way home.”

The team parents came to the dinner as well, after making signs to cheer them on. UTD also provided a fan bus for students wanting to travel to Brownwood to support the team, which helped the team succeed, Thomason said.

“It felt like a home game with a lot of the support there,” she said. “Any time you can get that from the crowd, it does energize you and gets you to play to another level.”

Going into the NCAA tournament, UTD was able to play with a home field advantage. The Comets were awarded the privilege of hosting their region’s first and second round of the tournament.

Thomas said it was sad to watch the team lose after all of its hard work.

“Today just wasn’t our day,” she said.

However, she doesn’t want to think about next season yet, instead wanting to focus on the graduating seniors before they leave.

“I just really want to still enjoy being around these guys and really celebrate the season that we had,” Thomason said.

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