Thursday, 28 March 2024 13:10

Saratoga Native Competes in March Madness Nailbiter

Photo of Dolly Cairns (left) via Florida Gulf Coast University Athletics. Photo of Dolly Cairns (left) via Florida Gulf Coast University Athletics.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Dolly Cairns, a Saratoga Springs native and the all-time scoring leader at Saratoga Springs High School, competed in the first round of the NCAA women’s “March Madness” basketball tournament last weekend. 

Cairns and the No. 12 seed Florida Gulf Coast Eagles faced off against a tough competitor: the No. 5 seed Oklahoma Sooners. The game was a nailbiter that came down to the final shot.

“It was a very fun and exciting experience,” Cairns told Saratoga TODAY. “I am extremely thankful to have gotten the opportunity to play in Assembly Hall against a very well-coached and competitive team like Oklahoma.”

The Eagles dominated the game in the early minutes, leading by 10 at the end of the first quarter. But Oklahoma quickly redeemed itself with a 10-0 run to open the 2nd quarter. At halftime, the Eagles had the lead. Florida was a perfect 28-0 in games they led at halftime. Momentum was on their side, but the Sooners didn’t give up without a fight. 

Cairns made the first shot of the second half, a smooth layup to maintain an Eagles lead. But Oklahoma chipped away at Florida’s defense and finished the third quarter with a 53-50 lead. In the fourth, the Eagles hit three straight shots from beyond the arc, showing why they’re regarded as three-point specialists. (Some fans wearing ponchos opened up umbrellas every time the Eagles “rained” three-pointers, but the umbrellas were apparently confiscated). 

The Sooners went on another run in the fourth, however, to put them up by 5 points with less than 4 minutes left to play. Cairns hit a huge three-pointer to put Florida within 3 points late in the quarter, causing an ESPN broadcaster to refer to Cairns as “deadly” beyond the arc. Later, Cairns fought for a rebound, and ran it all the way back for a layup, which put the Eagles up by 1 point, 68-67. With less than a minute left in regulation, the game was tied.

With only 5 seconds on the clock, Cairns attempted a three, but seemed to have either been blocked or fouled (though no foul was called by the officials). In the final play of the game, Florida was down by 3 points. With one second left, the Eagles quickly tossed up a three-pointer, but the ball bounced off the front of the rim. Oklahoma won with a final score of 73-70. Cairns finished the game with 10 points and 2 rebounds. She had the third highest point total among all Florida players.

In a postgame interview with ESPN, Sooners Coach Jennie Baranczyk praised the Eagles’ performance. “You don’t want to play them in this tournament,” Baranczyk said. 

Cairns looked back on her season at Florida Gulf Coast with no regrets. “I am so proud of our team for the way we carried ourselves all season,” she said. “The relationships I have made this year with my teammates have been like no other, and I am so happy that I made the decision to come play here.”

As for the future, Cairns, a senior, said she’s keeping her options open. “I am planning to take my extra year of eligibility and stay at [Florida Gulf Coast University] for another year,” she said. “After next year, I will be pursuing a career in healthcare.”

Cairns played for the Saratoga Springs Blue Streaks girls basketball team, scoring more than 2,000 points to set the school’s all-time scoring record. In 2019, she committed to the University of Rhode Island, where she played for two seasons before transferring to Florida Gulf Coast. With the Eagles this season, she averaged 9 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal per game.

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