By BRIAN CUNNIFF
When Lauren Holden celebrated with her teammates on the floor of the A.J. Palumbo Center in Pittsburgh Sunday afternoon after helping the Fordham University women’s basketball team win the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament championship, the 2015 Lower Cape May Regional High School graduate had a flashback.
“It was honestly incredible,” she said in a telephone interview a few hours after Fordham’s 62-47 win over Virginia Commonwealth in the Atlantic 10 title game held on the campus of Duquesne University. “It reminded me of my senior year in high school when we won the (South Jersey) Group II championship. Just an awesome way to finish out my senior year of college in the conference.”
The Atlantic 10 title makes Fordham (25-8) an automatic qualifier for the NCAA Tournament. The Rams will appear in the tournament for just the third time in program history. The tournament field gets announced next Monday, March 18.
Holden, a team captain and Fordham’s all-time leader in minutes played, scored six points and had just one turnover while playing all 40 minutes on Sunday. The contest aired live on ESPNU. Highlights of the game were featured prominently on ESPN’s SportsCenter show early Sunday evening.
“My senior year of high school we won the (South Jersey) Group II championship, so it couldn’t have ended any better for me my senior year of college winning this championship,” Holden said. “It’s awesome to achieve it and especially to share it with our other senior, Mary Golding. We went through all the highs and lows together for four years, so it’s great we were both able to get this our senior year.”
Fordham led by seven at halftime against VCU before pulling away in the fourth quarter. The victory avenged a 47-44 home loss to VCU during the regular season. It came one day after Fordham posted a surprisingly lopsided 76-34 win over host Duquesne in the semifinal round.
“We were very confident going into the game because of how we were playing the last few games of the year,” Holden said. “Even though we won by a lot against Duquesne, we had a lot of people we need to make shots knocking down a lot of shots. That was really huge for our confidence. We had everyone playing well, and that’s especially important to have in tournament time.”
Fordham’s coach, Stephanie (Vanderslice) Gaitley, is a former Ocean City High School star. So it comes as no shock that Holden and Gaitley have developed a strong relationship over the last four years.
“We’re both from South Jersey and we both played in the CAL, so there’s definitely a special connection there,” Holden said. “She’s an awesome coach. Without a coach like that, we don’t win a championship like we did today.
“To win this is incredible. We have to give a lot of props to our coaching staff. They’ve instilled the motto that it’s always team first, that’s it’s about the ‘we’ and not about the ‘me.’” All of us carried that out all season and it got us to a championship. The NCAA Tournament was the dream for us and it’s awesome that we’ll be there. To finally be about to do this, I can’t even describe it.”
Holden, one of two Fordham players to start all 33 games this season, averages 9.0 points per game. She also leads the team in assists with 91, steals with 41 and free-throw percentage at 89.1.
As a high school player, Holden was a four-year starter at Lower who finished with 2,476 career points. She led the Lady Tigers to the program’s first South Jersey championship in 2015.