Wells women’s basketball heads to NCAA tourney

Kaitlynne Knapp played for Central Western. Anita Babb is at Wells also.

Wells College junior Kaitlynne Knapp, of Port Byron, cuts down the net in Lancaster, Pa. on Sunday after the Express won the NEAC conference title.

Kaitlynne Knapp wasn’t sure she’d get an opportunity to play basketball again.

The Port Byron native played well for the Panthers before spending one season at Cayuga Community College and then two more with Onondaga Community College.

“I talked to Mike (O’Brien, Wells’ head coach) when I played for OCC, and I looked into going to Wells,” Knapp said. “It was perfect. It was close to home and I figured I might as well play as long as I can.”

On Sunday, she got to cut down the net at Lancaster Bible College, after Wells College claimed its first-ever North Eastern Athletic Conference championship.

Now Knapp, 23, is part of a team that will play in the NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Tournament at 7 p.m. on Friday. The Express (19-8) will play No. 5 Fairleigh Dickinson University-Florham (25-0) in Madison, N.J.

“It’s super exciting,” said Knapp. “I’m sort of starstruck because in high school, I was the biggest girl in the league. But in college, it’s crazy.”

In just its fourth season after a 30-year layoff from the sport, O’Brien has led a squad that started 4-21 into one that’s in the hunt for a national title.

“It’s been exciting,” he said. “This year is the first that we’ll graduate three four-year players. They’ve been here since the first season. It’s been a steady progression. As a coach, it’s gone according to plan. We knew we had a couple of pieces in place, we just kept adding more pieces.”

Ashley Roser, Kristen Ryan and Brittany White have been the core of the team, coming in as freshmen four years ago. At 5-foot-10, Roser has been nothing short of a standout, ranking in the top-10 in the country in double-doubles (21), points per game (22.5) and rebounds per game (12.9). Knapp is 11th in the nation in blocks per game with 3.26.

While Roser has had a bunch of talent around her over the years, she has consistently led the team in scoring and rebounding.

“I’ve been really thankful she did decide to come,” O’Brien said. “She can play multiple positions and was one of the first recruits I had. I don’t know how many Ashley Roser’s there are, I’m happy she came here.”

Even with Roser’s individual numbers, O’Brien is happy with his team’s overall chemistry.

“It’s really nice, everyone has gelled well,” O’Brien said. “You have to have those components to be successful.”

The excitement for Wells women’s basketball is palpable in the community and in the school. The Wells College President’s Office, Dean of Students Office and the Department of Athletics have organized a fan bus for the students to attend the game.

“Even though there was no basketball here for 30 years, it’s been a long-standing tradition at Wells,” O’Brien said. “It’s been really well-received by the student population. Being in the NCAA tournament and having our school represented, having our fans behind the bench – that would give us a little bit of a lift.”

“We’re going in blindfolded,” Knapp said. “We don’t know what to expect, so to have fans there supporting us, it’ll give us that push we need to do great things.”

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