After making their first national championship in team history with a 63-61 win over Centennial (NV), the Lady Cadets fell to New Hope Academy (MD) 45-34 in Queens, New York at the GEICO Nationals on Saturday.
New Hope Academy in Landover Hills, MD may only be 8.7 miles from St. John’s campus, but it took a 206 mile trip to Christ The King High School, the host of the tournament, for the now 40-3 team to meet the Cadets.
Before the Cadets could take on New Hope for the title, St. John’s took on Centennial High School, from Las Vegas, NV. The Cadets started with an early run, but fell behind in the second quarter, trailing 35-31 at the half. Alex Cowan ‘19 stole the show, going 4-for-4 from three-point range and finishing as the game’s second-leading scorer with 18 points. Azzi Fudd ’21 found her rhythm late in the third, and the Cadets were able to rally back to a one-possession game. Fudd hit a mid-range shot with a minute left to tie the game, and two free throws with 9 seconds left, to give St. John’s a late lead. The Bulldogs missed a three-pointer in the final possession, and the Cadets booked a spot in the championship.
“Honestly, I was just kind of locked in during the game, so I didn’t even realize…what was going on,” Cowan said of her semifinal performance, in which she was the second-leading scorer for the team. “It was an amazing experience…it was fun playing against some of the greatest competition in the country.”
St. John’s struggled offensively in a low scoring championship game, with their first basket coming 3:37 into the game, and missing 10 three-point attempts carrying into the third quarter. Only four players made shots from the floor all game: Fudd (14 points), Malu Tshitenge-Mutombo ‘19 (6 points), Carly Rivera ‘19 (6 points), and Kelis Corley ‘20 (4 points). Cowan made all four of her free throws as the only other scorer for St. John’s.
Despite the championship loss, this ends an otherwise very successful season for the team. The Lady Cadets won both the WCAC and DCSAA championships, defeating nationally-ranked Bishop McNamara (MD) three times with their only other loss coming to USA Today’s #1 ranked team Miami Country Day (FL). Rivera, Fudd, and Tshitenge-Mutombo were all named to the WCAC First Team.
This has also been a successful year for Azzi Fudd. The 5’11” guard won three Player of the Year Awards, from the WCAC, Gatorade, and USA Today. She became the first sophomore to win Gatorade’s award for girls basketball.
“It’s such an honor, it’s incredible” Fudd said before the tournament. She credited her teammates like Tshitenge-Mutombo, Rivera, and Cowan on her personal successes.
Fudd ends the season ranked #1 on ESPN’s 2021 College Recruiting Rankings. But she spent most of the tournament trying to find her rhythm, having long stretches without scoring in both games. She was 5-for-19 from the floor in the championship, going 1-for-11 in the first half.
Despite the championship loss, Tshitenge-Mutombo recognizes the value of this unforgettable season. “It makes me feel proud. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to end, but at the same time, we accomplished so much.”