March 20, 2024 

Patriot League notebook: Holy Cross is NCAA bound, heads to Iowa 

Inside how the Crusaders did it again

Tournament MVP and Ireland native Bronagh Power-Cassidy clutched her home country’s flag and the championship trophy following Holy Cross’ 61-55 title win in Worcester for the most memorable Saint Patrick’s Day celebration in school history.

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The Crusaders earned the program’s 13th league championship behind Power-Cassidy’s 21 points, eight rebounds and a 4-for-6 effort from behind the arc. The hosts led from start to finish, leading by as many as 17 points before holding off a second-half Terrier charge led by guards Alex Giannaros and Aoibhe Gormley.

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Top takeaways from the league championship

Sophomore Simone Foreman played a key role on the boards for Holy Cross all season. She grabbed a team-high nine rebounds in the championship game. (Photo credit: Rob Branning)

Bronagh Power-Cassidy is a big game performer

It could not have been scripted any better for Power-Cassidy to lead her team to victory in the league championship at home, in front of family, on Saint Patrick’s Day; she wrote it with competitive savvy, leadership and class. The senior guard delivered in the final for the second consecutive season, claiming both back-to-back titles and tournament MVP accolades. 

She led by example from the tip. On the first possession, she backed down Sophie Beneventine into the low block, patiently maintained her dribble while Anastasiia Semenova moved to dig down from the high post, then made a quick up-and-under move to come back to the baseline side and float a left-hander off the glass. Calm, patient, fundamental.

Power-Cassidy followed it up on the next possession with a little help from Janelle Allen in the high post. Allen pitched her a short pass out top and then screened off Alex Giannaros to free up her teammate for a midrange jumper to go up, 4-2. Holy Cross never trailed from there.

It was the kind of start to a game from a team’s best player that calms nerves and inspires confidence. 

She brings the intangibles of a winner and has helped lead Holy Cross to three straight 20-win seasons. Power-Cassidy will go down in the school’s rich basketball history as one of its greats and for good reason.

Take a look at her combined statistics in both championship finals against Boston:

She shot 15-for-25 from the floor, grabbed 13 rebounds, converted 6-for-10 3-pointers and posted 42 points.

Power-Cassidy is a big game performer and one of the most clutch players in school history. 

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Holy Cross Head coach Maureen Magarity celebrated her team’s second consecutive championship on the Crusaders’ home court after a 61-55 victory over Boston University. It’s the program’s 13th Patriot League title. (Photo credit: Rob Branning)

Home cooking mattered for the Crusaders

We’re not talking about dingle pies and soda bread, it’s the Hart Center — the home court advantage of the Crusaders since 1975. Grabbing the top seed on the last day of regular season play fulfilled a team goal for this year’s senior class and opened the door for a memorable championship run.

Playing in the Woo made all the difference.

It might not have happened.

The Crusaders’ record on the road was 1-4 down the stretch with losses to both the two and three seeds during that run. Every mental and emotional boost a team can find in the post-season is crucial and the team capitalized on its comfortable surroundings with a three-game sweep through the tournament, finishing its season with a 15-2 mark at the Hart.

The familiarity enhanced the defense. Head coach Maureen Magarity’s squad limited its opponents to an average of 55 points per game in the tournament after holding teams below the 60-mark just twice in the previous nine games. The last time Holy Cross held a team to under 60 points at home in the regular season was way back on Jan. 29 — a 61-50 victory over the same rival Terriers.

The team is comfortable and confident at home and it showed.

The Crusaders finished the season the way they began it, with defense. The aggressive attack in the halfcourt defensive scheme forced the Terriers into 17 turnovers in the title game — which led to a 13-4 edge in points off those miscues.

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Janelle Allen and Lindsay Berger handled their business in the paint

It was physical and crowded down low — and that was all part of the plan. The Crusaders committed to stopping Player of the Year Caitlin Weimar by bodying her up inside, denying her spot down low and bringing a hard double-team on the catch. They plugged up the lane with the two guards who weren’t covering shooting guard Alex Giannaros and made entry passes difficult.

The strategy took Boston University out of its offense and set the tone for a 40-minute battle in the paint that determined the outcome of the game. Allen and Berger brought the physicality to Weimar; they didn’t wait for her. It worked; Weimar (2-for-7) and post teammate Anastasiia Semenova (1-for-3) combined to take just 10 shots.

6’1 forward Callie Wright provided additional length inside and allowed Magarity to match double posts against Boston’s inside tandem. The Terriers won the battle for points in the paint by a 20-12 margin but it was a category in which they needed to post a greater margin to come out on top.

Sophomore forward Lindsay Berger played her best defense of the season in the Patriot League Tournament. (Photo credit: Mark Seliger Photography)

The Holy Cross defensive scheme was the difference

The Crusader trio of forwards never allowed Weimar to get to her favorite spots in the paint and set up. The group also excelled at preventing both her drop step and her counter to it, a long-stride step across her defender to nearly finish on the opposite side of the lane. She had no room to maneuver.

Meeting Weimar early in the possession and higher up the lane made her post-up positioning an easier recover for the help darting back to the perimeter as well. Following the pass out of the double-teams on Weimar’s catches inside, the close-outs to the Boston shooters were shorter and easier.

Terrier junior guard Giannaros played a spectacular game, scoring 21 points on 8-for-16 shooting despite the Holy Cross defenders crowding and never helping off of her on the perimeter. 

The defense went over the top on her ball screens, pressing up on her with the forwards providing a long-hedge out when necessary. The Crusaders turned Weimar into a passer, made Giannaros fight for every point and challenged the other starters to put up the numbers to beat them.

The Terriers couldn’t find the answers.

Despite a 17-point effort from freshman Gormley, Boston couldn’t generate enough offense to overcome the Crusader game plan.

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Holy Cross senior Cara McCormack has her Crusaders in the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row. (Photo credit: Rob Branning)

Cara McCormack delivered the dagger

McCormack let out an emotional scream and clenched her fists in a much-needed emotional burst while the crowd roared after the biggest and most impactful shot of the game.

The Crusaders were in the midst of one of their second-half offensive slumbers, riding a 17-point lead late in the third quarter and eased off a bit against a relentless and competitive Boston team. The Terriers took advantage and sprung an 8-0 run to cut the lead to seven with eight seconds to play in the frame. Momentum was shifting and perhaps this game was going to be Boston’s moment of redemption after all. You could feel the shift.

Then McCormack hit an absolute dagger.

The senior guard’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the right wing knocked all the air out the Terrier comeback and made the deficit seem almost insurmountable heading into the fourth quarter.

Fatigue was already setting in for both squads early in the final frame and, after Giannaros cut the lead to six, McCormack responded with another three and then a layup with 6:57 remaining. It would be the last field goal from Holy Cross for the game but the gap was too much for a worn down but proud Terrier team.

The heroics from the 5’3 combo guard pushed Boston to its physical and emotional limits when both teams were running out of gas. In the end, they didn’t have enough to mount a comeback; McCormack’s flurry was the difference.

UT-Martin’s Anaya Brown will be faced with the challenge of a Holy Cross interior defense that has shut down three consecutive sets of starting post players in its league tournament run. (Photo credit: UT Martin Athletic Communications)

Holy Cross to play UT-Martin in NCAAs in Iowa

The 16-seed Crusaders have landed in Iowa City, Iowa, for a March 21 First Four contest versus 16-seed UT Martin for the right to face Caitlin Clark and top-seeded Iowa.

The Skyhawks play in the OVC and bring a 16-16 record to the matchup. 5’11 freshman guard Kenley McCarn is the squad’s leading playmaker, averaging 16.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.

In the paint, expect 6’1 sophomore forward Anaya Brown (15.1 ppg and 8.9 rpg) to provide a strong test to the Crusader interior defense.

The game will be televised on ESPN2 at 9:00 p.m. ET. The winner will face Iowa on Saturday, March 23.

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News and notes from the championship

  • Aoibhe Gormley’s three three-pointers were a season high for the freshman. She went 11-for-36 from distance on the year.
  • Senior guard Cara McCormack did not register a turnover in the game against three assists.
  • The Hart Center drew 1,705 fans for the contest.
  • The win gave the Crusaders their 20th win of the year. It’s the 24th time the program has reached the mark.
  • Sophomore guard Simone Foreman grabbed nine rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench. She had seven rebounds in last season’s title win in Boston in just 19 minutes. Foreman leads the team in rebounding with 8.6 per game.
  • The Terriers attempted seven free throws in the contest, tied for their second-lowest output of the season.
  • The Crusader seniors combined for 42 of the team’s 61 points.
  • Boston seniors Caitlin Weimar, Sophie Beneventine and Kelsi Mingo have entered the transfer portal.

Final standings

(League record, overall record)

  1. Holy Cross (11-7, 20-12)
  2. Colgate (10-8, 18-13)
  3. Boston University (10-8, 20-12)
  4. Loyola (MD) (10-8, 16-15)
  5. Lehigh (9-9, 17-13)
  6. Army (9-9, 12-17)
  7. Navy (9-9, 14-17)
  8. Bucknell (9-9, 13-18)
  9. American (8-10, 10-20)
  10. Lafayette (5-13, 10-20)

Written by Todd Goclowski

Todd Goclowski currently covers the Patriot League for The Next. Goclowski brings 25 years of coaching experience to his role as an analyst and writer, including 19 years of coaching women's basketball in the NCAA at the D1 and D3 levels.

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