At the end of prize fights, when the champion has lost, the announcer makes a pronounced declaration “the winner and NEW champion…” While Jacksonville can’t quite lay claim to the title, they did dethrone the three-time General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Women’s Champion, ETSU, and in the process, exorcised demons from Championships past.
Entering the 2008 Championship title game, neither the Dolphins nor the Lady Bucs had ever experienced a conference title or an NCAA Tournament berth. ETSU grabbed the title that season with a three-point win in Nashville. As customary in boxing, the two combatants met one year later in a rematch. ETSU retained the belt with a 58-52 victory. A UNF upset in the 2010 Championship semifinals prevented third straight finals showdown.
After the one-year hiatus, the two found themselves bracketed on the same side. After dispensing of UNF, head coach Jill Dunn and the Dolphins earned their third shot at the Lady Bucs.
“They [had] gotten the best of us the past couple years, but I think we’re ready for it,” Dunn said in advance of Friday’s contest. “I [thought] this [was] the year that we [had] to do whatever we [could] to take them out. You aren’t going to win the Atlantic Sun Tournament without facing ETSU. We [knew] that day [was] coming and we [were] looking forward to it.”
The Dolphins jumped on the Lady Bucs early and built a 13-point first-half lead. However, as the contest moved into the later rounds, the Dolphins couldn’t deliver the knock-out punch. Slowly the Lady Bucs worked their way back into the game, even taking one lead, 57-56, with 1:25 left.
“They came in on a mission and they came in with a lot of emotion and passion,” ETSU head coach Karen Kemp said. “They took us out of everything we tried to do in the first half, so I give them all the credit for that.”
Instead of throwing in the towel, Jacksonville got a critical steal and lay-up by Jessica George to give JU back the lead with one minute remaining. Despite missed free throws in the waning seconds, the Dolphins exhaled in victory when a 3-point try at the buzzer by Jasmine McIntosh rimmed off.
“I am just extremely proud of pulling that game out,” Dunn said. “Obviously we have had a huge monkey on our back with ETSU for a couple of years now. From day one I thought that this was the team that could get it done and I just like they believe in themselves, they are playing with confidence really showed the past two days.”
Having cleared the hurdle of ETSU, 40 minutes stands between Jacksonville and that elusive NCAA bid.