The Duhawks’ 2013-2014 season came to an end Saturday night in St. Paul, MN against St. Thomas in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The women’s team finished one of the best seasons in school history with an overall record of 19-9 and a 12-2 record in conference play. Not only did the Duhawks win the Iowa conference regular season title, they also breezed through the conference tournament with wins over Wartburg and Coe. By winning the conference tournament, the Duhawks received an automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA Division III tournament. It had been over a decade since the Duhawks have been to the NCAA tournament.
In the first round of the tournament, the Duhawks faced off against the St. Thomas Tommies last Saturday evening. Despite Loras’ strong start, St. Thomas roared back to secure a 29-21 lead at halftime. The second half continued to be a back and forth nail biter as each team had a short lead at one point in the game. Unfortunately, the Duhawks fell short at the end by the score of 52-49.
“I wanted to keep them loose and have them enjoy the game, while finding the balance of competing and representing our league,” said head coach Justin Heinzen. “St. Thomas is a tradition-rich program with loads of tournament experience and they presented a lot of individual match-up problems for us. I thought we had to keep it a physical game and, especially in the second half, we did. If the game got into the full court, they had a definite advantage so we had to slow them down by shrinking the floor and by keeping them out of the paint with drive help and post defense. Guess you could say we made it ‘ugly’ but that’s what good defense does and was our best shot to win.”
Despite the loss, Heinzen was pleased with his team’s effort in the tournament.
“We certainly had our chances but I was very happy with how we went out,” he said. “We started on our heels a bit and allowed St. Thomas to dictate the game in the first half, but our women responded. We showed a lot of toughness and grit the last twenty minutes and really gave ourselves a good shot to win.”
With team a team high of ten points and nine rebounds, Loras was led by senior Katie Wheeler, in the last game of her basketball career.
“This season was more successful than I could have ever imagined,” said Wheeler. “We had such a tough non-conference schedule in the beginning of the season that gave us mixed feelings about how we would do in conference play. But ultimately it taught us a lot about our team as a whole and what we needed to do in order to be successful. We were picked to finish 6th in our league which did not seem to faze us, we were determined to break limits and show how great this team truly was. I sure wasn’t ready for this season to come to an end, but I am nothing but grateful for being able to be a part of this team. It was an incredible experience throughout it all and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to finish.”
“Rarely do things go as planned, but I do think this year went as planned,” said Heinzen. “We had quite the mix of newcomers to our roster and molding the team took some time. We scheduled one of the toughest non-conference slates in the nation with the intent of growing as a group, learning how to compete at the highest levels possible and helping us identify weak areas in our team’s offense and defense. Credit the women, after a 5-6 start, they kept focused and really improved as the year went along, more than any team I’ve had. I was proud of our leadership and happy we could send our seniors out with the gift of an NCAA tournament appearance.”
Although next season is far away, after this NCAA tournament, the returning players expect nothing less for next season.
“Each individual has things they will have to get better at to keep the program’s momentum high” Heinzen continued. “Accountability will be very important, in the weight room, in the summer and on days where our women are alone in the gym. From a graduation standpoint, we will lose a lot of rebounding, a lot of toughness and leadership that we will have to make up for as a group. I don’t think we’ll ask one player to do what Langmeier, Wheeler, or Byrne did, that’s not fair to either our seniors or returners. We’ll be a different team for sure and building our identity in the offseason will be crucial.”
As the season came to a close, three Duhawks completed their careers as Loras: Katie Wheeler, Katie Langmeier and Lauren Byrne.
“This season, our team adopted a motto that we held on to,” said Wheeler. “We said the phrase BLESS1A before and after every practice and in team huddles throughout the season. It stands for ‘break limits, embrace struggle, and serve one another.’ It was something that we constantly said, but it took time to really understand it. I think a lot of our success as a team this season can be attributed to understanding the deeper meaning behind it. It incorporates a variety of aspects of what it takes to be a good teammate and player both on and off the court. I think the younger girls should continue this tradition, because once we took the saying to heart, we broke limits, embraced struggles, and served one another. We became an unstoppable team because we lived by ‘BLESS1A.’ Each and every person on the team was an integral part of our success and I have no doubt about what this team will do in the future.”
After the season, several Duhawks on both the men’s and women’s side received recognition from the Iowa Conference.
On the women’s side, Heinzen was named Iowa Conference Coach of the Year. Langmeier was named the Iowa Conference MVP and Co-defensive player of the year. Sophomore Kaitlin Phillips was named to the first-team All-Iowa Conference team, junior Victoria May was named to the second-team and first-year Kathleen Cabrera received an honorable mention.
On the men’s basketball team, whose season ended two weeks ago, junior Aaron Schueller was named to the first-team All-Iowa conference team; while senior Alex Cline and junior Nathaniel Smith were both named to the second-team.