Boasting a lineup that includes four sophomore starters, the Navy women's basketball team has dealt with plenty of ups and downs this season.
After Saturday's 57-48 win over Holy Cross, however, the Midshipmen found their new high point — standing atop a ladder, cutting down the nets at Alumni Hall.
Six-foot sophomore Jade Geif finished with a career-high 22 points and the Midshipmen held the Crusaders to two field goals over the final 13:06 in the finals of the Patriot League tournament before an announced 1,704.
"We never really got on a roll this year," said coach Stefanie Pemper, whose team has struggled with inconsistency at times, "but we're on a roll now."
Navy (18-13) has earned an automatic bid to the 64-team NCAA tournament for the second straight year and will learn its fate when the brackets are announced Monday night. A year ago, the Midshipmen drew a No. 14 seed and played competitively against first-round opponent DePaul until the final minutes.
To make it back this time, the Midshipmen first had to find a way to jump-start their listless offense, which produced just 18 points in the first half.
"We really needed an inside presence," Pemper said. "We needed Jade to be a presence because we knew they couldn't stay with her and if she could be a presence and get some attention, we could get some kick-outs and get some shots."
That's just what happened in the second half.
Guarded one-on-one, Geif had 14 points and five rebounds after halftime to become just the fourth player in tournament history to earn back-to-back honors as the tournament's Most Valuable Player.
When she wasn't scoring, she was kicking the ball back outside to teammates Alix Membreno (13 points) and Kara Pollinger (10).
"It was finding that confidence that if they did double [me], then I could kick it out," Geif said. "Having that confidence in each other makes you play even better. I know if I get doubled, I'm going to kick it out and they're going to hit that."
And by making their shots, the Midshipmen also had time to set up their defense at the other end, altering the Crusaders' game plan.
"Our game plan was to go inside, but the thing is we couldn't stop [Navy] in the second half, so we couldn't get out on our break, which is our best offense," Holy Cross coach Bill Gibbons said. "It seemed like we were running [our] half-court offense with them set up in their defense the entire second half."
Navy had lost to Holy Cross (18-14) in all six previous tournament meetings, including twice in the title game.
Trailing by seven early in the second half, the Midshipmen took control this time by heating up on the perimeter, pulling within two on Erin Edwards' 3-pointer, then taking a 28-27 lead — their first since the game's opening moments — when Geif hit a scoop layup and completed the three-point play.
When forward Audrey Bauer nailed another 3, Navy had completed a 10-1 run.
Later in the half, trailing by a point, Navy held the Crusaders without a field goal for the next 8:32, building its lead to 47-40 Bauer's 12-footer with 5:39 left.
Holy Cross, meanwhile, remained ice cold, shooting just 24 percent in the second half, including three of 13 from 3-point range.
"We had some good looks that we didn't knock down," Gibbons said.