Dowling women earn Division II NCAA Tournament berth

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It's not as if Dowling was grandfathered into the NCAA women's Division II tournament, though it did seem to draw strength from the deep basketball roots of its players in earning yesterday's 59-54 victory over St. Thomas Aquinas in the East Coast Conference championship final.

The victory at Queens College secured an automatic bid for Dowling in the national playoffs that commence Friday for a team that functions, guard Connie Simmons said, "like a fist." Different players from different backgrounds and different lands, working together.

Simmons, the junior from Syosset whose grandfather (also Connie Simmons) played for the Knicks in the early 1950s, has been the team's leading scorer through this 23-6 season and played Sunday's game, coach Joe Pellicane said, despite being ill all week. She had nine points and nine rebounds.

The team's two Austrians, senior Sarah Schicher from Vienna and sophomore Julia Koppl from Innsbruck, scored 13 and 17 points, respectively. Yes, there are basketball players in their families going back a couple of generations as well. And junior Seja Gamble, who scored 10 points, five of them after St. Aquinas took its last lead, at 30-29, early in the second half.

Also, senior guard Kelly Puwalski, who came off the bench to provide eight points late and shared tournament MVP honors with Schicher. Puwalski's dad played basketball.

"These are special kids who want to be here," said Pellicane, in his eighth season coaching Dowling's women after 13 years coaching the men -- and twice going to the NCAA Tournament with them. "They understand this is not UConn or Tennessee. It's Dowling.

"But our kids are athletes. We expect them to defend, we expect them to share the ball. And on a good day, there are signs of that."

Sunday was a good day.

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