Tennessee ends lone senior’s career

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NORFOLK, Va. – When senior Jessica Simmonds transferred to GW from Providence after her sophomore season, she did not anticipate being the only departing player in her final game. As the team’s lone senior, Simmonds’ role this season extended from just bringing in fouls under the post to bringing her team together as a leader.

“I’m just really proud of Jessica Simmonds,” head coach Joe McKeown said after GW’s 66-53 season-ending loss to Tennessee in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. “She played a great year for us. I’m proud of our program and our team.”

After GW, the Cleveland region’s seven seed, lost to the second-seeded Tennessee Tuesday evening, Simmonds stood at center court to thank the faithful Colonials fans among the sea of orange. The tears she shed while heading into her teammates’ embraces were a tribute to the kind of emotional game, and season, she played.

Simmonds’ passion during her 40 minutes on the court was instrumental in the Colonials’ second-half effort to make a run at competing with a team that defeated GW 59-43 in the regular season. Her 14 points led the team’s scoring for the game, and her eight rebounds helped to keep the team alive after the Lady Vols started the game on a 12-0 run.

Aiding Simmonds inside was freshman Jessica Adair, whose 13 points and 11 boards marked the game’s only double-double. Entering halftime down 40-23 and having trailed by as much as 20, a comeback appeared to be impossible.

Simmonds was not ready to go home without a fight. Five of the Colonials’ points during an 11-3 run to start the second half were scored by Simmonds and put GW within nine. During those six minutes, Simmonds also recorded two steals and a block.

“I think a lot of teams, when down by 20, would fold, but our kids really battled back and showed a lot of poise and a lot of heart and that’s how they’ve played all season,” McKeown said.

“There were parts where we didn’t match their intensity,” Tennessee senior Shanna Zolman said. “It definitely wasn’t just a warm-up (for the Sweet 16) for us.”

The intensity with which the Colonials (23-9) played produced 10 steals and 18 turnovers, while Tennessee had five and 11, respectively. In the end, the Colonials could not match the strong shooting presence of Zolman, who netted 19 points, or the size of 6-foot-3 redshirt Candace Parker, who added another 15 points.

Before playing Tennessee (30-4), the Colonials faced Old Dominion two days earlier in the first round. Despite having to confront the Lady Monarchs on their home court, GW escaped with an 87-72 victory that included double-digit scoring from six Colonials.

Though Simmonds’ collegiate career has come to an end, the rest of the team can only look toward the future. Five freshmen line the squad, and with point guard Kim Beck, who had 11 against the Lady Vols, and Atlantic 10 Conference sixth woman of the year Sarah-Jo Lawrence still eligible for two years, the Colonials can only hope to improve.

“I’m just so proud of my team and what we did this season,” Simmonds said. “We overachieved in so many different ways. We were young but we just played hard regardless of the figures on our team. We gave everything, every game. I think that they’re going to have a great season next year. Everyone’s just going to come out playing their best and coming out even better and improving.”

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