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Posted 9:30 a.m., March 20)
Former St. Peter Knight gets caught up in
March Madness

By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

Former St. Peter Knight standout Courtnay Pliypaitis was recently named tournament MVP after helping lead the Vermont Catamounts to the America East basketball championship and a berth in the NCAA women's tournament. Fred Sherwin/Photo


March Madness is alive and well in Burlington, Vermont and former St. Peter Knight standout Courtnay Pilypaitis is at the centre of all the attention after leading the University of Vermont Catamounts to the America East Tournament Championship last weekend.

Pilypaitis registered back-to-back double-doubles in the semi-final and final to help earn the Catamounts their first trip to the NCAA Women's Tournament since 2000. For her efforts, she was named the tournament MVP..

The Catamounts went into the America East Tournament as the third seed, in keeping with their third place finish in Conference play. Their inter-conference record during the regular season was 12-4, with all four of their losses coming against the top two seeds, Boston University which finished first in the conference and Hartford which placed second.

The Catamounts opened the tournament with a 57-45 win over the University of New Hampshire in which Pilypaitis scored 15 points and added four rebounds. With the win, Vermont advanced to the semi-finals against the Hartford Hawks who had beaten the Catamounts in their only two previous appearances this season.

In the semi-final showdown, the Catamounts trailed by five points as late as midway through the third quarter before they went on a 19-4 run, highlighted by back-to-back threes by Pilypaitis who wound up scoring a game high 23 points as well as 11 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the season. The Catamounts went up 50-40 with 6:05 left in the contest and never looked back.

In the final the Catamounts faced the top seed Boston University Terriers who had also won both their previous two engagements and was riding a 19-game winning streak heading into the final. For Vermont, the third time was once again the charm, as they managed to hang with the Terriers through the first two quarters to take a five point lead by the halftime break.

The Catamounts would eventually open up a double digit lead in the fourth quarter thanks to Pilypaitis who scored 18 of her 22 points in the second half. She also contributed 11 rebounds for her second double-double in as many games. In the end they cruised to an impressive 74-66 win to earn their first berth in the NCAA tournament in eight years.

Unfortunately, they will have to play the top women's basketball team in the country in the University of Connecticut Huskies who are 33-0, and they'll have to play them on the Huskies' home court. It's a daunting task, but it's one that Pilypaitis, who is playing in only her second year of Division I basketball, is looking forward to.

"It's not going to be easy, but it's going to be a great experience for our team, especially the seniors who haven't been to the tournament before," says Pilypaitis. "We have nothing to lose. We'll try to enjoy it. Why not go all out and see what happens? That's why they play the game."

Courtney's father Linas was in the stands cheering his daughter on at the America East tournament and he plans to drive to Storrs, Connecticut for the game on Sunday.

"The place will be nuts. She played in front of 6,000 fans before during a game in Minnesota, but this will be on an entirely different level," says Linas.

In their NCAA-preview story, Sports Illustrated columnist Andrew Lawrence called Pilypaitis, "The best player you've never heard of", but then he also went on to predict that UConn's stiffling defence would prevent her from putting up any big numbers.

While Pilypaitis and the rest of the Catamounts will be hoping to extend their season against the Huskies this Sunday, another former St. Peter Knight saw her season come to an end on Wednesday when Canisius College lost 90-65 to Syracuse University in the first round of the Women's National Invitational Tournament in Syracuse.

Stephanie MacDonald scored five points coming off the bench for the Griffins who made it through to a post season tournament in just her first year at the Buffalo area school.

MacDonald and Pilypaitis were teammates on the St. Peter Knights when they won the city championship in 2005.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

 

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