When the juniors on the Navy women’s basketball team arrived in Annapolis, the program had reached two Patriot League tournament championship games combined in 19 seasons.
These days, thanks to contributions from forward Jade Geif, guard Alix Membreno and a handful of other classmates, the Midshipmen are one victory from becoming the second team in Patriot League history to win three straight tournament titles.
The Midshipmen swept the season series, winning by an average of nearly 19 points. The most recent victory came Feb. 13 in Annapolis, 59-35, in a game that barely was competitive after the first few minutes.
“Not many people make it to a championship game in their league in their college career,” Membreno said. “I think it’s like an honor. I think it’s awesome just to see your hard work pay off. I mean we start in August, and we just grind for months and months, go through ups and downs and just so much adversity. It’s an emotional roller coaster as well, and I think it’s really a blessing just to be able to be to just be here three times in a row. It’s definitely not expected.”
Some of the travails the Midshipmen have encountered this season include getting swept by Army, which captured the Patriot League regular season title and earned the No. 1 seed in the tournament. But the Black Knights were stunned by eighth-seeded Colgate, 48-40, in the quarterfinals, shifting home-court advantage to Navy through the rest of the tournament.
The Midshipmen also lost their regular season finale to Bucknell, 55-48, on the road, when Geif got into foul trouble. The two-time reigning Patriot League tournament MVP finished with five points on 1-of-4 shooting before being disqualified. It was only the fifth league win of the season for the sixth-seeded Bison, who proved no match for the Midshipmen in Monday’s 60-48 semifinal loss.
In that game, Membreno scored 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting with 10 rebounds and a career-high eight assists, falling just short of the first triple-double in Patriot League tournament history.
“It’s just an emotional year, you know, and it will continue this week and Saturday for sure,” Coach Stefanie Pemper said. “We had some ups and downs in the non-league season, and it gets lost that but for Army, we had such a fantastic league season, and it comes down to that final game in Lewisburg, Pa.”
The uneven play continued in the Patriot League quarterfinals, when Geif sank two free throws at the end of regulation to force overtime against No. 7 seed Lafayette. The Midshipmen escaped, 59-55, thanks to 20 points from Geif and 10 points, 12 rebounds and six assists by Membreno.
Membreno had a big hand in Navy’s run midway through the second half against Bucknell on Monday, which enabled the Midshipmen to pull away for good after the Bison drew within four points. Pemper called timeout with 9 minutes 40 seconds left in regulation, and out of the stoppage junior forward Audrey Bauer swished a jumper off a pass from Membreno.
Junior guard Kara Pollinger followed with a jumper, and Bauer and Pollinger sank consecutive three-pointers before Membreno’s three-pointer provided a 52-37 buffer, prompting Bison first-year Coach Aaron Russell to call timeout. Bucknell got no closer than 12 the rest of the way.
“It’s our third chance to be able to get to the championship and win it,” Geif said. “Just knowing each other and playing with each other, it’s just exciting to have that privilege to play with each other every single day. That’s what we’ve been thinking about. Every win gives us that chance to practice with each other again, so I guess that’s like the motivation, but it’s exciting to be able to play for it a third time in a row.”