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April 6, 2012

BOSTON, Mass. - The Emmanuel College women's basketball team enjoyed one of the greatest campaigns in the program's history, compiling a 25-7 overall record en route to the program's second-ever appearance in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Division III tournament. Along the way, the Saints posted a perfect 13-0 regular season record in Great Northeast Athletic Conference action before capturing their sixth consecutive GNAC title under the tutelage of Head Coach Andy Yosinoff, who was tabbed the D3Hoops.com Northeast Coach of the Year. Yosinoff was also named the 2012 recipient of the Red Auerbach Award, an honor bestowed to the National Jewish Coach of the Year.

EC kicked off the year by hosting the 28th Annual Emmanuel College Invitational, falling in the opening round to Heidelberg University, 70-69 but were able to recovering winning the consolation game vs. Moravian, 91-81 behind a monster game from junior forward Fiona O'Dwyer (Stamford, Conn.) who recorded a double-double with 28 points and 20 rebounds in the win.

The Saints would improve to 4-1 with three straight non-conference victories over tough opponents in Eastern Connecticut State, Brandeis University and Rhode Island College before dropping a decision to the No. 1 ranked team in the nation in Amherst College, 84-60, despite holding a second half lead.

The women would wrap up the semester with wins over Salem State and Endicott College before heading to the United Kingdom for the London South Bank Invitational over their semester break for four exhibition contests as well as some sightseeing and team-bonding. The trip was a success as freshman forward Lena Negri (Arlington, Va.) was named the tourney MVP but the team did suffer a setback as junior guard Laura Benvenuto (Wyckoff, N.J.) went down with a broken wrist that would sideline her for the beginning of the second semester.

Over the first two weeks of the second semester, Emmanuel would post a 6-1 record with GNAC wins over Lasell, Suffolk, Rivier, Saint Joseph's (CT), Anna Maria and Emerson. The only loss during the streak was to regional powerhouse Bowdoin College on the road in Brunswick, Maine.

After dropping a pair of games to NESCAC schools in Tufts and Wesleyan, the Saints regrouped to begin a stretch of some of the best basketball in the program's history, posting 13 consecutive victories in which they'd outscore opponents by an average of 19.5 points including three wins in the GNAC tournament and three victories in the NCAA tourney.

The streak began with home victories over Simmons College (69-56 on 1/28) and Pine Manor (89-42 on 2/1) before making it three in a row with an 86-57 road win over Albertus Magnus that saw four players in double-figures including O'Dwyer (15), seniors Meghan Kirwan (Melrose, Mass.) (14) and Breanna Ockimey (Philadelphia, Pa.) (14) and freshman Vanessa Bramante (Stoneham, Mass.) (11).

The Saints would continue to roll with three more home wins over Johnson & Wales (72-45 on 2/7), Norwich (83-55 on 2/11) and a very important victory vs. Saint Joseph's (ME) in a showdown for the No. 1 seed in the upcoming GNAC tourney. Led by Negri's 20 points and 12 rebound, EC was able to prevail 60-46 and lock up the No. 1 spot and home court in the playoff. Benvenuto also made her return from the wrist injury in the win.

A 75-55 victory over Mount Ida wrapped up the Saints perfect regular season record at 13-0 as the squad set its sights on a sixth straight GNAC Championship. Emmanuel was tested by the No. 8 seed in the opening round as Norwich University hung around most of the game before the Saints were able to put them away in a 66-54 win behind a strong shooting performance by Ockimey who finished with 17 points.

In the GNAC Semifinals, the Saints cruised to an 87-58 victory over Suffolk as Kirwan and Ockimey contributed 15 points apiece while freshman guard Britni Mikulanecz (Portland, Maine) added a season-high 12 points in the win.

Making their 12th consecutive appearance in the GNAC Championship game, the Saints seized the moment with a 68-57 victory over Saint Joseph's (ME) in a well played title contest. With the score deadlocked at 34-34 at the half, the Saints used some clutch shooting by Kirwan and O'Dwyer down the stretch to capture their sixth consecutive GNAC title. O'Dwyer ended the day with 24 points while Kirwan added 20 and was named the tournament MVP.

In the opening round of the NCAA tournament, the Saints would face Hartwick College who received an at-large bid after falling in the Empire 8 Championship game to Ithaca College. Hartwick was in control early in the contest leading by as many as 13 in the first half before the Saints stormed back to tie the score at 31-all heading into halftime. Emmanuel would open the second half strong, build a double-digit lead and hold on for the 68-61 win.

In the sectional finals, the Saints would face the sectional host Rhode Island College in a rematch of their December 1 meeting in which EC was able to hand the Anchorwomen one of only three losses on the year to date. In another great game that saw neither team lead by more than seven points, Emmanuel was able to prevail, 57-52, to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2007. The senior duo of Kirwan and Ockimey came up big, combining for 23 points in the win to keep their careers alive.

EC would draw King's College (Pa.) in the Sweet 16 with all the games being played at Amherst College, the No. 1 team in the nation and regional host. Despite falling behind early, the Saints were in control much of the action and would post a 67-56 victory to earn just the second-ever berth to the Elite 8 for the program with the other coming in 2001. O'Dwyer registered a game-high 24 points in the win while Kirwan continued her dominant play with 18 points and 12 rebounds in the win.

To reach the Final 4 for the second time in the program's history, the Saints would have to go through No. 1 Amherst on their home court in their Elite 8 matchup. Emmanuel was unable to muster up some magic to hand the Lord Jeffs their first loss of the year as Amherst collected an 84-61 win to end the Saints fantastic year with a 25-7 overall record.

Kirwan capped the season with numerous accolades including First Team All-GNAC honors, the GNAC tournament and regular season MVP selection, D3Hoops.com First Team All-Northeast as well as a Capital One Academic All-District First Team honoree. Joining her on the GNAC First team was O'Dwyer who set a new conference single-season record with 217 field goals made.

Yosinoff and the Saints lose Kirwan and Ockimey to graduation but will welcome back 12 letterwinners from this year's Elite Eight squad that finished the season ranked No. 19 in the nation in the D3Hoops.com Top 25 poll.