EDITORS NOTE: This is the second in a five part series of the top teams from the past decade in York College Spartan Athletics. Today we look at the 2008-09 York College women's basketball team that was a conference finalist and an NCAA Tournament participant.
The number four team on our countdown featured a crew of six seniors that stuck together through thick and thin. Rarely does a class come in as freshmen and leave fully intact as seniors but that is what happened for Spartan head coach Betsy Witman in 2008-09.
This group of six seniors started their careers with a record of 15-12 as freshman followed by an 18-9 mark as sophomores. They bettered their second year mark with a school-record 19 wins as juniors. That set the stage for the greatest single season in York College women's basketball history in 2008-09. Those seniors, guard Keli Ward, guard Amanda Andrews, forward Chanel Perez, forward Amy Fry, guard Donna Figenshu, and forward Jackie Garlock, guided the Spartans to a school record 27 wins, an undefeated Capital Athletic Conference regular season, a school-record 25 consecutive wins, and the program's first berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament.
The season started with the Spartans having high expectations despite graduating standout and four-time All-CAC selection Kristen Daly. The Spartans came out of the gate and dropped an 82-76 decision to Messiah College. The Falcons were coming off an appearance in the NCAA Division III championship game the year before and were expected to be one of the top teams in the country. The Spartans received big efforts from Perez and Ward as they had 20 and 18 points each while Ward also had 11 assists and seven rebounds. The team knew, despite the loss, they could compete with any team in the nation.
"There was a level of disappointment in the loss, but it showed us we could compete with any team on our schedule," stated Witman. "We lost and we knew we didn't play as well as we were capable of playing. It gave us a confidence moving forward."
Three days later, the Green and White began a streak that may never be matched. The Spartans blitzed a talented Rowan squad 99-63 and kick started the historic 25 game streak. There were some close calls during the run but not many as the Spartans won those 25 games by an average of 24.1 points per game. There were ten games where York won by 30 or more points, including a 50-point demolition of Hood on December 3.
The Green and White had five games during the streak decided by less than double digits with the closest calls coming ten days apart in February. On February 2, the Spartans needed a game-winning three pointer from sophomore April Sparkman to defeat CAC rival Mary Washington 59-56. After a 15-point win at St. Mary's the following Saturday, York had to travel to McDaniel for a non-conference contest on Monday, February 12. The Spartans pulled out a last-second victory as Sparkman hit a lay up off a Ward feed with 1.2 seconds left, giving the Spartans a 59-57 road victory. That game also held personal meaning for Perez as she joined the 1,000-career point club with her jumper with 5:57 left in the game.
The streak came to a bitter end in the CAC Championship game against Mary Washington. The Eagles used a big second half to upset the top-seeded Spartans as York then had to wait to see where and if they would be selected to the NCAA Tournament.
The good news came on Monday after Saturday's stunning loss. The Spartans were not only in the tournament, but they had been selected to host a first and second round site. The Green and White welcomed Christopher Newport, Baruch and Cabrini to the Grumbacher Center. The Spartans rolled to a 75-61 win over CNU in the opening round, powered by Ward's 15 points, seven assists, and five rebounds. Sparkman had 19 points while sophomore Jaimie Sapp had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The Spartans then advanced to the Sweet 16 courtesy of a 90-73 win over a pesky Baruch College squad. Sparkman continued her outstanding post-season with 21 points while she harassed Baruch's top player, Monique Salmon, into 3-for-14 shooting from the floor. Ward proved again why, without a doubt, she was an All-American as she notched her 28th career double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds while she also had eight assists, three blocked shots and three steals.
The Spartans saw their storybook season come to an end with a hard-to-swallow 50-46 loss to Scranton in the Sweet 16 in Rochester, NY. The Spartans never got on track offensively and were held to their lowest point total of the year.
Ward finished the season as York's first WBCA First-Team All-American as she was also named the CAC Player of the Year. Ward was also a finalist for the prestigious Jostens Award recognizing the best player in Division III Basketball. Witman was named the CAC Coach of the Year while Perez and Sparkman joined Ward on the All-Conference team.
Witman knows that team was very special.
"There are so many special memories that we created during that season," says Witman. "It was an unbelievable group of seniors and they really carried us throughout the year. It was wonderful to see all six contribute to the success of our team, all in different ways."
The six seniors combined to win 79 games, four more than the next closest class. The legacy of their accomplishments are not lost on Witman.
"That group put York College women's basketball on the map and I am eternally thankful for their efforts and skills that made those four years so very special," states Witman. "As long as I continue to coach, I am not sure I will ever have a team, or a season, like that again."
The Spartans concluded the season with an overall mark of 27-3 and that earns them the fourth spot on our top five countdown.