NEW YORK (AP) — It was only a few years ago when Fordham was the laughing stock of women’s basketball, setting a record for futility.
Now second-year coach Stephanie Gaitley has the Rams near the top of the Atlantic 10.
“I thought about that the other day and I don’t want us to enjoy it too early,” Gaitley said after a 68-57 loss to No. 18 Dayton on Sunday night. “There’s so much left to do. The second we let it seep in is the second we’ll lose the next challenge.”
The Rams (16-7) have already reached victory milestones they haven’t achieved in decades. They clinched their first winning season since 1994-95. Fordham also won 10 games out of the conference for the first time since 1983-84. Not too shabby for a team that went 0-29 in 2008 to set the NCAA record for losses in a season.
None of the current players were on that team and the Rams have benefited from two stellar transfers. Erin Rooney followed Gaitley from Monmouth when she took over the Rams’ program two years ago. Rooney had to sit out last season because of transfer rules, but has made an impact this year.
Marah Strickland also transferred into Fordham after spending time at Maryland and South Carolina. The two transfers are leading the team in scoring, averaging 13.9 points each.
“We don’t accept losing,” Rooney said. “It’s not what we want to be as a program. It’s great to be a part of making history every game, but it’s something that we won’t really think about until the end of the season when the tournament comes around.”
Rooney and Strickland did all they could Sunday night to help the Rams upset Dayton. Fordham is 0-12 against ranked teams in school history. Trailing by 17 in the second half, Strickland scored 10 of 12 points in a run that cut it to a five-point game.
“We’ve been doing a good job of staying together as a team, not looking at the scoreboard,” said Strickland, a sixth-year senior. “As long as we’re giving our all on defense, the offense will come.”
The Rams just couldn’t get any closer as they were worn down. Dayton’s bench outscored Fordham’s reserves 34-0.
Even with the loss, the Rams have already won their most Atlantic 10 games since joining the conference in 1996. They were 3-11 in the league last season and picked 11th in the preseason conference poll.
“I think a great program has two things: great players and a great coach. I think Fordham has both,” Dayton coach Jim Jabir said. “The transfers that came in helped in a big, big way. I’ve known Stephanie for a long, long time and I have a lot of respect for her as a coach. This place is going to be hopping.”
The Rams just didn’t have enough to upset Dayton. The Flyers lost seven players to graduation, but are off to the best start in school history, winning 21 of their first 22 games. Only four other teams have one loss this season — No. 1 Baylor, No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 3 Connecticut and No. 5 Duke.
“It’s exceeded our expectations — anyone’s expectations,” said Jabir, who won his 400th game, including 180 at Dayton. “We have the sixth youngest team in the country, sometimes I forget.”
The Flyers (21-1, 9-0 Atlantic 10) led by three at the half before Kelley Austria took over. The freshman guard had 10 of her 12 points after halftime, including six during a 12-4 run to open the second half. Her layup capped the spurt and made it 45-34. The lead ballooned to 17 points before Strickland rallied the Rams. She scored 10 points in a 12-0 run to make it 54-49 with 7:30 left.
Brittany Wilson had a putback and Olivia Applewhite a layup to make it a nine-point advantage. Fordham could only get within six the rest of the game.
“That’s the biggest difference from last year,” Gaitley said. “There used to be a fear that we can’t do this. Now it isn’t there anymore. We used our media timeouts as a barometer. Marah hit those shots quicker than we anticipated and we got back in it.”
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