By James Whitlow
The National Hillel Basketball Tournament’s women’s championship game Sunday at Ritchie Coliseum ended 22 to 12 in favor of a team without affiliation to one specific school.
The NHBT Free Agent Team, made up of women from many different colleges, beat Columbia University for the top spot.
Columbia, which fielded multiple teams this year, was the underdog. The unaffiliated players had played with and against each other before, so they knew they had chemistry before stepping onto the court.
“I had a lot of friends I wanted to play with,” said Hannah Schmelzer, a junior fashion communications major at the Parson School of Design. “This tournament is tough because you basically have less than two days to really vibe with your team.”
Schmelzer said finding enough women who want to participate from one school can be a challenge, so she and her friends arranged their own team – without regard to the schools they came from.
This was Schmelzer’s first championship win in the three years she has played in the NHBT.
“We almost didn’t make it past the first [round],” Schmelzer said. “This is my third year, and every year I wanted to win, so it feels really good to get that.”
Schmelzer said the team had to pull together after its near loss, but after a few hiccups, they made it all the way.
“Our first couple of games we were all over the place,” she said. “We were out of control.”
Tamar Brown, a senior family science major at this university, said the game was a fitting end to the women’s tournament. She said it was hard to predict the two finalists on account of all the teams’ strong showings, but the unaffiliated team clearly had something special.
“I watched some of their games and I saw they had some good chemistry,” she said. “Honestly, this is anyone’s game; any team could have made it. And I think it makes sense that they made it this far.”
Out on the court, as the clock wound down, Schmelzer said she was trying to keep a level head.
“I was thinking of just trying to play smart,” she said. “Also, how I really didn’t want to lose and how that would be really terrible,” she added with a laugh.
Brown said the tournament is, without a doubt, the largest collegiate gathering of Jews in the U.S., and the competition nurtured there is in good spirit.
“It was competitive, but good-natured, friendly, respectful,” she said.