For the second time in three seasons, the Duhawks made it to the NCAA Tournament. This year they were dealt a rematch with St. Thomas, and the team was determined to advance to the second round. Coming into the matchup, the Tommies were 25-3 and held the No. 8 national ranking, but it was clear that the Duhawks were not intimidated by these numbers.
From the opening tip, it was a seesaw battle. The Tommies jumped out to an early lead, but Loras used their tough defense to get back into it. Senior guard Megan Jones buried a long three at the buzzer to get the Duhawk faithful on their feet. The second quarter continued with offense hard to come by, as both teams struggled to put points on the board. They matched one another point for point, but the Tommies held the halftime advantage, 21-19.
The second half began and featured offense coming alive as both sides began to see success. The Duhawks really found their stroke as Jones and junior forward Terese McMahon combined for back-to-back-to-back triples to put them ahead. They maintained a five point lead as the game entered its final frame.
In the fourth quarter, Loras continued to shine on offense as they expanded their lead to 11. McMahon’s layup gave the Duhawks their biggest lead of the night at 58-46 with 6:31 still on the clock. This was followed by St. Thomas’ Kaitlin Langer fouling out. The star forward left the game with 25 points and it seemed that all the pieces were falling into place for a Duhawk victory.
Unfortunately, the women were not able to maintain their advantage and saw their lead slip away as the Tommies went on a 17-5 run over the final six minutes. With the score tied at 63 and time winding down, senior guard Kaitlin Phillips was given the ball to try and save the day for the Duhawks. Unlike in the Iowa Conference semifinals, Phillips’ shot did not fall and the game was heading into overtime.
After losing their double digit lead in the final quarter, the Duhawks were unable to regain any momentum in overtime. The Tommies took control and outscored Loras 13-5, with free throws being the final nail in the coffin as the Duhawks only converted on 1-of-6 attempts from the charity stripe. As the buzzer sounded, the Tommies celebrated their 76-68 victory that ended Loras’ season.
Despite the loss, the Duhawks can look back on what was an overall successful season. They finished with a record of 19-9 as well as their second conference title in the last three seasons. Head Coach Justin Heinzen knows that this season will be one to look back on fondly.
“We didn’t set team goals this year. More of the message was consistent improvement and embracing the daily battle with each other,” said Heinzen. “We were lucky to have a very competitive roster, and once we all understood that our best comes from the 80-plus days of practice instead of the 28 games, we started to really play well together. There was a process of growth that this team needed to get through, and they did that and, in turn, offered a lot to celebrate in the end.”
With the season ending, this also means that the three seniors on the roster will be moving on from the program. Over their four years together, Phillips, Jones and Abby Reinke were part of many winning teams and leave a legacy of success for future teams to strive for.
“They’ve won 70% of their IIAC games the last four years, have won 80% of our home games and were instrumental in setting a higher standard for our program,” said Heinzen. “They served as examples, leaders and process driven women and will leave as the winningest four-year class in Loras women’s basketball history.”
Even with this loss, the team still has a high number of impact players returning for the 2016-2017 season. Juniors McMahon, Kat Cabrera and Lori Obendorf will be looked at as leaders for next year’s team after their contributions this past season. Coach Heinzen is also excited about the incoming class of 2020.
“We are still in the finalizing stages for this upcoming recruiting class, and we have some very good players in the mix.”
These fresh faces, along with the current roster, should provide the Duhawks with continued success if they can mesh well together.
When losing a player with the impact of Kaitlin Phillips, it can be daunting. However, Coach Heinzen believes they have the pieces to make it feel like she never left.
“There is a lot of potential within our current roster to do that from within, and in the past few years, that’s kind of how it’s been. For example, when we graduated Langmeier, Victoria May took her place. When Victoria graduated, Terese took her place. We’ll need a very good offseason from our group.”