Record-breaking year leads women's basketball team to its first Big Dance

NEW YORK -- From the start, there was little doubt who would come away victorious.

The Cornell women's basketball team routed Dartmouth 64-47, earning an automatic berth for the NCAA tournament. The Big Red led the entire game.

For the first time in the program's nearly four-decade history, the Big Red women earned a spot in the tournament with the win, having already clinched a share of the Ivy League conference title earlier this month. For Cornell basketball in general it was another first: NCAA tournament berths for both the men and women in the same year. The women's team will find out its NCAA opponent, date and time of competition during Monday night's selection show, which will be broadcast on ESPN at 7 p.m.

Along with Harvard and Dartmouth, the Big Red women finished the regular season 11-3 in the Ivy League and 20-8 overall, forcing the three teams to a mini-playoff March 14 and 16 to determine who would go to the Big Dance. After winning a coin toss, Cornell received a bye to play in the championship game. Dartmouth defeated Harvard 68-62 on March 14.

"It's a dream come true," said head coach Dayna Smith. "We're honored to represent the Ivy League in the NCAA tournament."

The women broke all kinds of school records as they finished their season, including most wins in a season (20) and most conference wins in a season (11). They also managed an undefeated conference record at home (7-0).

The game was played on the neutral court of Levien Gym on the Columbia University campus. Though four hours from home, the Big Red managed to draw a sizeable crowd, taking up almost two sections in the small gym, and easily outnumbering the green-clad Dartmouth fans. The Big Red Band sent a small contingent (though no less enthusiastic), and even the Big Red Bear made an appearance.

To help cheer the women to victory, the Cornell Athletics Department also arranged for a bus to shuttle Ithaca fans to and from Columbia March 16. About 25 people boarded the bus to support the team.

With the March 16 win, the women capped a remarkable season, made especially sweeter because it followed some years of disappointment. Sixth-year head coach Dayna Smith was just 3-24 four seasons ago. She has led an improving team ever since.

Many of the fans who boarded the Cornell bus are longtime spectators, staying faithful to the team, win or lose. One such fan was Nancy Law '84, assistant director for alumni volunteer programs in Cornell Career Services.

At her job, Law interacts often with members of the women's basketball team, helping connect them with internships or first jobs through alumni networking. She said it's "really exciting" to watch the women play their way to an Ivy League championship.

"But for me, it's not about winning or losing, but about the journey," Law said.

Like Law, for years Janet Snoyer has been a fan of basketball -- both men's and women's. She speaks with seemingly parental pride of the scholar-athletes who have found success this year in basketball. She noted that while success at Cornell depends greatly on individual effort, success at basketball teaches students some serious lessons on teamwork.

"I love to see Cornell students work so hard for the benefit of each other," Snoyer said.

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