AUWBB looks to make another run in NCAA tournament

Zach Read

The stage is the same, but the scene is a bit different this year as the Ashland University women’s basketball team will not be hosting the Midwest Regionals of the 2018-2019 NCAA Division II women’s basketball tournament.

The Eagles (29-2) as the No. 4 team in the Midwest Region will instead travel to Springfield, Mo. to take on No. 5 Northern Michigan in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday (Mar. 15) at 9:30 p.m.

“We’re excited for a road trip in the regional tournament,” head coach Kari Pickens said. “Obviously we love to play at home, the Eagle Nation crowd is fantastic but one of the nice things about being on the road is just how together our team is able to be and I know our girls are looking forward to being able to play on the road.”

The Eagles will play in their second straight matchup against the Wildcats (22-9) after defeating them in the GLIAC championship on Mar. 10, 65-58.

The Wildcats upset the No. 1 seed Grand Valley State in the semifinals of the GLIAC tournament to put them in the championship against AU.

In the championship, the key to victory was rebounding for the Eagles in which they outrebounded the Wildcats by 22 in which Pickens believes was the deciding factor in the game.

“At this time of year rebounding, it wins championships; if you don’t rebound you’re not going to make it very far this time of year,” Pickens said.

While that was the goal in the championship matchup against the Wildcats, Pickens said that it will remain one of the main focuses in their second straight matchup with Northern Michigan.

Bree Gannon
Junior guard Renee Stimpert.

Learning from that championship matchup, Pickens realizes that the Wildcats post players had it too easy inside, so she said she wants to switch it up on defense to keep them on their toes.

“Anyone who watched the game saw that their post players hurt us a little bit defensively. They shot 50 percent from the field because they got such high percentage shots,” Pickens said. “We just need to do a good job of trying to get it out of their hands as much as possible.”

Ashland won it’s fourth straight GLIAC tournament championship on Sunday but has something on their record that they have not been accustomed to in the past… two losses.

With those two losses forgotten in the past the Eagles are focused on the road trip ahead of them, a regional tournament road trip they have not made in four years.

Looking to lead the way for the Eagles will be juniors Jodi Johnson and Sara Loomis who average 18.7 and 15.4 points per game, respectively, while also leading the team with 7.3 and 9.9 rebounds per game, respectively.

Sophomore forward Karlee Pireu has filled her starting role since taking it halfway through the season by averaging 11 points per game but also providing a big defensive presence in the post for the Eagles.

The Eagles will need a few of their big-time playmakers to execute and make plays throughout the NCAA tournament.

On the other side, the Wildcats are led by junior forward Jessica Shultz with 10 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game along with senior guard Darby Youngstrom who averages 11.2 points per game and 5.1 rebounds per game.

The teams are ready and awaiting tipoff as the AU Eagles prepare to make another run in the NCAA tournament as they kick it off against Northern Michigan. The game will tip-off at 9:30 p.m. EST on Friday (Mar. 15) at Drury University in Springfield, Mo.