Nationals here they come
Oops, they did it again. The women’s basketball team is the Midwest Collegiate Conference champion again; stop if you’ve heard this story before.
With the score tied at 54, the Vikings used a 9-3 run in the final three minutes of Tuesday night’s championship game against St. Ambrose in Sisam Arena to clinch their second consecutive conference tournament championship and automatic place in the NAIA National Tournament, winning 63-57.
Garey Smith, women’s head basketball coach, said, “At the beginning of the year we didn’t know how to play with each other, but it’s really a credit to them and how everyone has accepted their roles.”
Grand View was led by senior center Morgan Hamner, who scored 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds in her 32 minutes of action. The Vikings trailed 31-27 at halftime.
Hamner said, “In our halftime talk we discussed how we really needed to come together as a team. We win as a team or lose as a team. We just kept that mentality and really got excited for each other. That motivation and support really helped keep our heads in the game.”
Hamner was named Midwest Collegiate Conference Player of the Year on Wednesday, averaging 15 points per game and seven rebounds.
“It was indescribable,” Hamner said. “To have people recognize the hard work I put in the past two years and this preseason was such an honor. It made it even more special knowing my daughter was there for it all.”
The Vikings’ bench sparked the offense in the first half, and a dominant defensive effort in the second half helped complete the comeback to give Grand View its second straight conference championship and third trip to the national tournament in four years.
The Vikings trailed by as much as seven in the second half then only allowed the Bees to score 14 points.
Senior point guard Abby Mendlik, who scored eight points and tossed a team high of six assists, said, “We wanted St. Ambrose to play our style of basketball and get them out of their comfort zone. We helped a ton down low on their post players and made sure their three-point shooters were covered at all times.”
The Bees were 5-18 from long range and Grand View was 3-8.
Senior guard Amy Vos, who’s been to the national tournament three times in her four years at Grand View, said, “I’m so lucky to have been blessed with great teammates. Smitty and the other coaches do a great job of recruiting great players who are also great people. We all have each other’s backs.”
Junior forward Haleigh Biancalana came off the bench to score nine points on 4-6 shooting and grabbed four rebounds in 13 minutes of action.
Biancalana said, “They told us to play our game (at halftime) and control the tempo. The coaches stressed the importance of setting the tone that we weren’t going to back down because this was our court, and our nets to cut down.”
The Vikings received 22 points from their bench Tuesday night and trailed by as much as seven with just under 14 minutes to play. From that point, Grand View allowed only 14 points for the rest of the game.
Hamner said, “We really have to lock in mentally and follow the game plan. (At nationals) There won’t be room to only play for half a game, we will have to play our game for 40 minutes.”
The Vikings will practice at Drake University to get used to playing in an arena before leaving for Sioux City on Tuesday.