Chelsea Apke, the leading scorer for the Washington & Jefferson College women’s basketball team, has one more season of eligibility remaining. However, it’s unlikely that the former Mt. Lebanon High School standout will use it.
That’s good news for W&J’s opponents around the Presidents’ Athletic Conference because Apke recently garnered first team all-league honors for the second consecutive year. She has been the Presidents’ most athletic and consistent player since she transferred from NCAA Division I Presbyterian.
Apke plans to graduate this spring with an accounting degree and end her basketball career. That’s bad news for the Presidents, who will find it difficult to replace Apke’s scoring, rebounding and determined play.
In the first round of the ECAC South tournament Wednesday night, Apke played with now-or-never determination and helped W&J pull away in the second half for a 79-72 victory over travel-weary Marymount at Henry Memorial Center.
The Presidents (21-8), the No. 4 seed in the eight-team bracket, will play Saturday at top-seeded Catholic (20-6) in the semifinals. It’s W&J’s second consecutive appearance in the ECAC South semifinals.
Apke scored 20 points, grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds and was the key player during the Presidents’ pivotal 12-5 run in the second half that opened a 58-51 lead.
“She’s so good,” W&J coach Jina DeRubbo said. “Chelsea just works and gets it done. There’s nothing flashy about her game. She’s been so consistent for us. We’re definitely going to miss her.”
Apke said she realized a loss to Marymount would not only end W&J’s season but also her career, and she was determined not to let that happen. It was the same kind of determination Apke had after suffering a torn knee ligament that caused her to miss the 2011-12 season, her first on the W&J campus. She wouldn’t let the injury slow her down and hamper her game.
Apke returned in top form and is a driving force for the Presidents, just as she was at Mt. Lebanon. In high school, Apke had two seasons end with victories – she played in three state championship games, winning two – and she’s determined to win another tournament.
“It was in the back of my mind that this could be it,” Apke said. “But I felt if we played hard and played good defense, then we would be good to go in this one.”
With the score 46-46 and less than 13 minutes remaining, Apke broke the tie by getting the ball in the middle of the lane and taking a power step between two defenders. She split the defenders and made a difficult shot that gave W&J a lead it would not relinquish.
Apke later drove for a basket, then beat Marymount’s defense to the rim for a another layup and 53-47 lead. Two minutes later, she converted a three-point play that made the score 58-51.
“We needed to execute better offensively in the second half than we did in the first,” DeRubbo said. “We were shooting so quickly in the first half. Once we started moving the ball, then we were able to get the ball inside.”
Apke and sophomore foward Beka Bellhy, who scored a game-high 23 points on 11-for-16 shooting, dominated inside the lane in the second half.
W&J pushed its lead to 72-59, but Marymount (17-11) used some three-point shooting to get to within six in the game’s final minute. The Saints stayed within striking distance by making eight three-pointers but they converted only 12 of 22 free throws.
Point guard Kara Seamon had a big game for W&J with 19 points and seven assists.
Katelyn Fischer, the Saints’ point guard, scored 17 points and Aliya Roseborough came off the bench to score 16, including four three-pointers.
The game’s start time was pushed back 30 minutes because Marymount was late arriving. A wreck on the beltway around Washington, D.C., caused traffic to be rerouted and the Saints didn’t arrive in Washington until 45 minutes before the original start time.
Though W&J would rather be playing in the NCAA Division III tournament than an ECAC regional, the Presidents are not taking the postseason games lightly.
“We’re in it, we might as well win it,” DeRubbo said. “Not many teams get to finish a season with a win. It’s a great feeling to do that, and one we hope to have.”