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March 18, 2009

 

Same old...

Finucane leads Amherst to women’s Final Four

Finucane

Photo provided by Amherst College
Cortland High graduate Shannon Finucane (33) has been instrumental in helping lead the Amherst women’s basketball team to the Final Four of the NCAA Division III Tournament.

By TANEY BEAUMONT
Staff Writer

AMHERST, Msass. — College hasn’t changed Shannon Finucane — at least not on the basketball court.
The former Cortland High girls’ basketball standout is now the freshman starting point guard for the Amherst College team that, at 29-2, will take on Washington (Mo.) University Friday in the NCAA Division III semifinals in Holland, Mich.
Finucane, who reclaimed the role she originally had and has started now 14 games this season, is also a huge factor in the Lord Jeffs having made the Final Four, as she averaged 15 points per game in the team’s four tournament games (including a season-high 22 in a 68-54 quarterfinal win over Brandeis) after scoring at an 8.6 points-per-game clip during the regular season.
“It was a pleasant surprise,” Amherst coach G.P. Gromacki said of Finucane’s post-season. “We’ve expected a lot from her all year — we’ve had high hopes since the first time we saw her practice; once we saw her we thought she’d be our starting point guard — and Shannon has stepped up for us.”
But Finucane’s positive influence on the team goes deeper than numbers (she also leads the team in assists with assists with 113, or 3.6 a game, and steals with 76 — 2.5 a game).
“As a freshman, people already look to her,” Gromacki said. “She doesn’t back down from anything, and you can see that it builds the other players’ confidence. She’s a steadying influence that makes everyone else better. It started in our league tournament when she grabbed the other four players out there and let them know what they needed to do. I turned to my assistants and said, “We finally have a leader.’
“My favorite quote about her came from the Brandeis coach, Carol Simon, who said after our NCAA game that ‘(Finucane) is the most poised freshman I’ve ever seen.’”
“I don’t know what it was,” Finucane said of her post-season success. “I got to the line a little more, which helped; I also worked hard on my shooting, and it’s helped me, which I’m happy about. I started, then I didn’t, then I did again; it’s been a bumpy season, but that’s all right. I kept working hard, took it as it came and knew that when the time was right, what needed to happen would happen.
“The most difficult thing was learning when to keep the ball and when to pass it; it’s a different level, and passes you made in high school you might not be able to make now. It was a matter of adjusting to the higher level of play.”
When Gromacki’s comment about finally having a leader when she took charge of things came up, Finucane laughed and said “It’s happened more than once. No one looks at your age when you’re out there; playing as a team, it doesn’t matter how old anyone is.
“A big part of the success we’ve enjoyed has come from how much we like each other. We like being together on and off the court; there’s no drama. You get to see 14 or 15 of your best friends every day when you walk into practice, and we enjoy the success we’ve been having together.”
Finucane had 10 points in each of Amherst’s first two NCAA contests, a 77-54 win over Babson College and a 76-37 romp over Emmanuel College. She scored 18 points as the Lord Jeffs beat NYU 74-51 last Friday before her 22-point performance against Brandeis. Because of Amherst’s successful season, it played all four of its NCAA games on its home court.
The Lord Jeffs made the Division III Sweet 16 last season, when they finished 27-3. “We felt we could advance farther this season, but we lost about 60 percent of our offense,” Gromacki said. “We graduated three starters, including our point guard, and lost a fourth to injury. A lot of people didn’t expect us to do this well at all; we felt we could. We start three sophomores and two freshmen, so things look good for the future.
“It took awhile for Shannon to grow into her role, but she’s carried everyone in the NCAA Tournament. She’s a competitor, and loves the game of basketball.”
“We definitely had the goal of going farther than last year’s team, but we knew we wouldn’t have success just because last year’s team did,” Finucane said. “We had the opportunity, and we worked really hard to achieve that goal.”
Friday’s other semifinal pits The College of New Jersey (27-4) against 30-0 George Fox. Friday’s winners meet for the national championship Saturday night.
“We don’t know much about Washington, so we’ll focus on ourselves and getting ourselves up,” Finucane said. “If we play the way we have, we have a chance of making it all the way.”
“Getting to the Final Four is the highlight of my season so far; hopefully winning the national championship will be after this weekend.”