Drexel Women’s Basketball Reflects on a Season of Madness

The Dragons were only ranked seventh in the Coastal Athletic Association conference tournament but used their late-season momentum to win and propel themselves to March Madness.
Team celebrating CAA win

The team celebrates after punching their ticket to the Big Dance. 

Before the bright lights of March Madness in Austin, Texas, before the final buzzer against Stony Brook University in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) tournament final and before kicking off the conference tournament with a win over the University of Delaware, there was the March 7 game against North Carolina A&T University.

It was an away game, the penultimate outing of the Drexel University women’s basketball team’s regular season, and the Dragons won by 13 points. They were on their second of what would become a seven-game winning streak (with a three-game streak to end the season), and they’d fought hard to take the win. Graduate transfer and guard Brooke Mullin, sophomore guard Grace O’Neill and junior guard Amaris Baker said that game was the moment they felt the team come together.

“We were the underdog of course but through that whole week, we were locked in and felt good,” said Baker, a criminology and justice studies major in the College of Arts and Sciences, who was named Most Outstanding Player of the CAA Tournament. “We played together very well, so we were just on fire. Once we figured out what we needed to do and what was working, we stuck with it until the end.”

Grace O'Neill in the CAA finals

Grace O'Neill drives for the basket in the CAA final against #1 Stony Brook. 

The journey to March Madness started well before the moment when the final buzzer sounded in the CAA tournament championship win over top-ranked Stony Brook University on March 17. Head Women’s Basketball Coach Amy Mallon made sure her team knew that to end the regular season transformed them a dangerous opponent to face in the conference tournament, where they were seeded seventh. They had momentum — and who wants to tangle with a fiery bunch of Dragons?

“This team showed up every day willing to get better and leading each other through the storms,” Mallon said. “I mentioned we would be a dangerous team in March, and seeing the team believe in themselves and come together at the most crucial part of the season is one of the things I love most about coaching. Anything is possible when a team plays together and for each other.”

During the CAA tournament, the Dragons made their . They won three close games against Delaware, Monmouth University and Towson University to make it to the final. No one expected them to be in the title game — but they knew they could win it, “if we focused on us and stayed disciplined on defense,” said Mullin, who is studying teaching, learning and curriculum in the School of Education, who was named to the 2024 CAA Women's Basketball Championship All-Tournament Team.

Players reach for the ball

Players reach for a rebound in the CAA final. 

“To me, the most influential moment at the CAA tournament was when we beat Monmouth,” said senior forward Chloe Hodges, an elementary education student in the School of Education, who was named to the 2024 CAA Women's Basketball Championship All-Tournament Team. “That was the real turning point where I think the belief of the group truly went through the roof. We knew we had it in us all year, but seeing ourselves pull off a win against a team we lost to twice was something that had a huge mental impact on our team. Coming out with the win in that game really kickstarted something in us all and truly brought to life that ‘refuse to lose’ attitude and self-belief that ultimately led us to win it all.”

Hodges said the team knew it would come down to big-time possessions and making free throws to secure the 68-60 win over Stony Brook in the championship game. She had been in similar positions during the season and knew her team trusted her at the free throw line, and Hodges scored the last two points in the championship game with two free throws. However, she realized a win was coming a few minutes before that, when O’Neill knocked down a pair of her own free throws. It was surreal, Hodges said.

“I could believe it and had faith in our squad, but at the same time could not believe that we really accomplished it against a really talented Stony Brook team,” Hodges said. “I think that our team definitely had ups and downs throughout the season. Our theme song has been ‘Life is a Highway,’ and I think that is truly representative of our team’s journey throughout the year. I think that losing several games by small margins and possessions was really deflating for our group, but the toughness and will to get better and learn is what helped us to be able to execute four possession games in a row when it mattered.”

Dragons disembark

Dragons disembark in Austin. 

The Dragons last won the CAA Tournament in 2021 and have only won the championship three times total. That was the big goal, Hodges said, and she viewed the trip to March Madness, where they competed against No. 1 ranked University of Texas as a 16-seed in the first round, as a bonus. They played the March 22 game in front of a packed house at the Moody Center in Austin, Texas, and those who weren’t on the 2021 team fulfilled lifelong dreams of getting to play in the NCAA Tournament.

“We all experienced this together and I cherish that a lot ... Next is just doing what it takes to get back to that stage and win in March Madness,” Baker said. “I love a big stage; that is where the best comes out of me. The arena in Texas was a different atmosphere — it was something you would dream of being at. Sold-out crowd, lots of lights and noise, and playing against an elite team was everything. It was something that I wish everyone could experience.”

O’Neill, a finance major in the Bennett S. LeBow College of Business, said she went in resolved to play her hardest and do her best to soak up the atmosphere. The team showed up to battle against Texas just like they have for every game throughout the season, Mallon said, and set out to do what no 16-seed women’s March Madness team has done before: bring down a top-ranked component, the University of Texas. While the Dragons couldn’t slay the Texas Longhorns and the game ended 82-42, the experience was a still dream come true.

Amaris Baker

Amaris Baker watches her shot in the NCAA Tournament game against #1 Texas. 

“Every student-athlete who is a competitor wants an opportunity to play against the best; it’s why we do what we do and work so hard, because tough teams embrace any challenge and will fight until the buzzer sounds,” Mallon said. “I also reminded them that many players and coaches spend a lifetime in the sport and never get this opportunity, so they needed to soak it in and realize they put themselves in this position and should celebrate every moment.”

The 2023–24 season will last a lifetime in the minds of the players, coaches and fans. O’Neill will always remember hugging Baker after the Monmouth game. Mullin will always remember the celebration after the CAA championship’s final buzzer. Baker will always remember her “brothers,” the boys she played with growing up at the Murphy Recreation Center in South Philly, tell her they’re proud of their little sister. Hodges will never forget what she called the toughest team she’s been on throughout her time at Drexel.

It was a season that required a lot of patience, confidence and resilience as a team with a lot of new players learned how to play with one another, but it was also a season of growth. These players are proud of each other and unafraid to push each other forward. They’ll keep pushing — determined to run it back next year and make it to the Madness again.