BROOKLINE, Mass. - On Saturday afternoon, one member of the New England Collegiate Conference will win their first-ever conference championship in women's basketball and qualify for the NCAA Division III Women's Basketball tournament. As it was in the 2017 playoffs, the Newbury Nighthawks and Becker Hawks will meet again, but this time for the NECC Title.
The top-seeded Nighthawks enter tomorrow's contest at 18-8, a 10-game improvement in wins from 2017 and the biggest jump in wins of all teams in the NECC. The third-seeded Hawks travel to Pappas Gymnasium at 17-10.
Newbury will feature the dynamic trio of senior Destiny Spears (Arnold, Md.), junior Savannah Olsen (Battle Creek, Mich.), and freshman Jaymesha Sanders (West Haven, Conn.) while Becker will respond with sophomore Cassidy Harrison (Foxborough, Mass.), junior Adrianna Dowdy (East Haven, Conn.), and junior Ciara McKissick (Charlton, Mass.).
The Nighthawks trio are individually in the top-five in scoring average in the NECC, combining for 44.9 points per game. Harrison ranks second in the NECC in scoring this season at 16.4 PPG.
For Spears and Harrison, their two-way ability separates them from much of the pack in the conference as the perennial Player of the Year nominees are first and second in the NECC in steals. Spears sits atop the stat category with 3.5 steals per game with Harrison just trailing at 3.3 SPG.
In the first meeting this season on Jan. 13, the teams closely battled through three quarters but the Nighthawks final frame of 19-12 made the difference in the 61-55 Nighthawks win. Spears led a balanced attack with 14 points while Harrison's 25 points fell short.
In the regular season rematch on Feb. 10, Becker looked poised for victory after three quarters, but a fourth quarter Nighthawks comeback would give them another six-point win, 60-54. Spears finished with a game-high 21 points while Harrison was held to 15 points.
Sanders success, along with the other freshman in the Nighthawks lineup, has allowed them to be 11 points better on offense this season compared to last and eight points better defensively. On Thursday's semifinal win over Elms, Sanders became the highest scoring freshman in Nighthawks history with 378 points, taking over the freshman scoring record from Olsen.
Becker's defensive production has contributed to their run to the NECC Championship Game. The Hawks have held opponents to a 52.9 PPG this season, best in the NECC. Their 24.6 turnovers forced are also the most in the conference. Two of the three games against the Nighthawks were Becker's highest allowed points in a game to NECC opponents this season.
The winner of tomorrow's NECC Championship receives the conference's automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. The NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Selection Show will take place on Monday, Feb. 26 at 2:30 p.m., exclusively on NCAA.com.