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'Trying to soak it in': Smith basketball returns to Final Four

Smith College head basketball coach Lynn Hersey talks with Jessie Ruffner in the third quarter of a January 2024 game against Worcester Polytechnic Institute at Ainsworth Gymnasium in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Dan Little
Daily Hampshire Gazette / gazettenet.com
Smith College head basketball coach Lynn Hersey talks with Jessie Ruffner in the third quarter of a January 2024 game against Worcester Polytechnic Institute at Ainsworth Gymnasium in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Smith College will play in its second consecutive Division III women's basketball Final Four on Thursday afternoon — with a trip to the national championship game on the line. Smith is taking on Wartburg College in Columbus, Ohio.

We caught up with Smith head coach Lynn Hersey at the airport on the way to the game. Hersey said it's beginning to sink in that her team is returning to the national semifinals in back-to-back years.

Lynn Hersey, Smith College: The second Final Four is definitely unique. It's special. I mean, I think coaches work a lifetime to get to one, so I'm certainly trying to soak it in as we prepare and and get ready for the weekend ahead.

Adam Frenier, NEPM: You won a couple of tight games up in Maine to make that second Final Four. What overall this season have been some of the keys to success for your team — not just last weekend, but starting back in November?

We have some experienced guards from last year's Final Four team, and that has really served us well, both in terms of being able to handle big moments — you know, in-game situational big moments — but also building a culture within your program, bringing in new players and having them learn what the expectations are and the leadership aspects of it all.

For people that are hearing this and are looking to tune in, but maybe don't know as much about your team, who are a few players they should key in on?

Well, Jessie Ruffner is a fifth-year senior for us, and she's been just absolutely dominant in terms of her effectiveness. As we've kind of gone throughout the season, we've really relied on her playmaking ability, her scoring ability, and also her her ability to lead the team high-pressure moments because she's had so much experience. And she was just recently named the New England Region Player of the year. She was the NEWMAC Player of the Year. And we're waiting to see if she's an All-American, which I'm sure she will be.

Sofia Rosa is our big 6-foot-2-inch post player. She's a graduate student who had a year of eligibility, and she's playing for us this year. She is a transfer from Tufts University, and she's made such a huge impact in terms of having just such a big interior presence — you know, both ends of the floor, the offensive end and defensive end.

And then one more is Ally Yamada. She's our shooting guard. And she is just an absolutely phenomenal shooter, probably the best I've ever seen at our level. I think she's had eight [three-pointers] in a game three times this year, which is quite a feat.

Coach, as far as the support you've been receiving from the Smith College community, I've seen some pictures of a packed gym at a number of your home games. How have the Smith fans and the students gotten behind you over the last couple of years with all of this success?

Yeah, the Smith community has been just such a lift to us. They believe in us. [We had] these lofty goals a couple of years ago, and they just [have] been by our side. Every time we push for something a little bit more, they're right next to us. They've visibly shown their support by physically showing up for our games, showing up for send-offs.

Back to basketball for a moment, coach. Having gone through this last year, are there things that you learned last year that you could apply for this year as far as going through the Final Four experience?

Absolutely. I mean, I think it doesn't get much bigger than the Final Four moment. I mean, that's what you play for, an environment you, you dream of. There's there's nothing that really replaces being present, feeling what it feels like to be in those moments and how you prepare for it ... Physically, emotionally, mentally. So, I think the advantage this year is that we have half the team who's been there. We have a coaching staff who's experienced it all.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.
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