Sports Column: Women’s basketball in a league of their own


Sports Column: Women’s basketball in a league of their own

Noah Cloonan

Winning a national championship is the ultimate dream for any college basketball player, but for the girls on the Ashland University women’s basketball team, that dream is not far from being a reality.

I’ve had the distinct privilege of following the women’s basketball team over the past two seasons and I have concluded that there is no team in Division II women’s basketball that is able to match up with the Ashland Eagles.

After a disappointing end to the 2015-16 season, The Eagles have exploded onto the national scene in the 2016 and should be the favorites to win it all in March.

Off to their second best start in program history, a perfect 23-0, the Eagles have showed no signs of slowing down.

Looking at the complete body of work that the Eagles have presented so far this season, there are no sign of weakness on this team. They have seen blowout wins as well as close wins. They have been down early and come back to win and they have seen impressive performances from opposing players, but at the end of the day, the Eagles have always come out on top.

Some say it’s because of their high-powered offense that averages 95.8 points per game. Others say it’s because of their veteran leadership and pesky defense, but I believe that it is their depth that is going to win them a national championship.

AU has a luxury that not many other teams in the country have and that is their bench.

No Eagles player averages over 25 minutes per game and 10 out of the 12 players on the roster average more than 10 minutes per game.

Some people will argue that this is only true because the Eagles have beaten teams by an average of over 34 points per game, but no player has played over 30 minutes in more than three games this season. 

This is what will be the difference in this years championship run as opposed to last years.

Last season the Eagles ran out of gas at the end of the year and fell to Drury in the second round of the regional tournament.  AU barely escaped the first round against Ursuline and the Eagles just had nothing left the next day to take on Drury and were bounced from the tournament.

Last years starters played an average of 28.1 minutes per game and led the Eagles to a 31-2 season but faltered down the home stretch.

This season is a completely different look as the Eagle’s starters average a measly 23. 8 minutes per game and this fewer amount of minutes has shown in the way the Eagles have played. This may not seem like a major difference, but over the course of a grueling season, these extra minutes off the court will pay big dividends for the Eagles.

Division II has three remaining undefeated teams including Ashland. Colorado State Pueblo and Lincoln Memorial have also played to perfect seasons so far, but they have done so without the depth that the Eagles have. Both teams have at least one player that averages over 30 minutes per game and at least three players that average over 25 minutes per game.

As a team CSU-Pueblo averages 27.22 minutes per game among their starters and for LMU the starters play an average of 24.8 minutes per game. 

Because of the extra time off the floor, the team is playing more aggressive while they are on the floor and this shows in the fact that nearly every offensive and defensive category is up from a year ago.

Ashland is forcing 15.2 steals per game, which is more than five more steals than they averaged a year ago. They are also scoring the ball at a prolific rate and they have eclipsed the 100-point mark seven times and have scored at least 75 points in each of their first 23 contests.

Perhaps the most notable difference from last year to this year is their scoring output.

The 95.8 points per game that the Eagles average is nearly 20 points per game better than the 76.1 points per game that they averaged last season. Their 95.8 points per game is the second best total among all three divisions of women’s college basketball. With the high point total comes a better shooting percentage, as they have raised the team’s average over five percentage points to shoot 51.8% from the field.

The Eagles also share the ball better than any other team in the country, not only in division II but across all divisions. Their 546 assists through 22 games is 36 more than Baylor University who has recorded 510 assists in the same number of games. 

This superb ball movement has allowed the Eagles to get more players involved and has increased offensive production across the board. 

Last season, AU had just two girls that averaged double-digit point totals on a nightly basis, but this season the Eagles have five players that average double-digit scoring numbers and they are led by Laina Snyder at 18.5 points per game.

In 22 games, the Eagles have scored more than 90 points 15 times as opposed to last season when they scored 90 or more points in just three out of 33 games. 

Last season Lubbock Christian University was able to run the table going 35-0 and win the National Championship. They were dominant in every sense of the word, beating opponents by an average of 27.8 points per game. The Eagles have dwarfed that number by posting a scoring margin of 34.1 points per game. 

The Eagles have also surpassed Lubbock Christian in every major offensive and defensive category, except for blocks.

If history is any indication, then the Eagles should stand as the favorite to win the national championship.

They have proven that they can compete and win against the top teams in the country. They kicked off their year in an exhibition game against Ohio State and lost by nine, but gained the respect of many Buckeye fans that realized that day that Ashland was the real deal.

 Ashland also has taken on some of the top competition in Division II and they have passed the test each time with flying colors. 

AU defeated Saginaw Valley State who was ranked No. 24 in the country at the time, 101-50. They also defeated the Grand Valley State Lakers, 75-61. The Lakers who were ranked No. 22 at the time boast the second best defense in division II and the Eagles did not even flinch.

 The Eagles found a tough matchup when they went on the road to No. 4 Bellarmine and squeaked out an 88-83 victory. Even though the score was close at the end the Eagles dominated throughout and held a double-digit lead for the majority of the contest.

Ashland has proven that they can beat the top teams in the country and they have easily managed to hold off every other team in the GLIAC, despite getting everyone’s best game. 

To make matters worse for opposing teams, the Eagles are virtually unbeatable at home and they way that the division II playoffs are set up allows for the Eagles to play plenty of games at home.

The Eagles have won 37 straight regular season home games dating back to December of 2014 and are the favorites to host the GLIAC Tournament and the Regional Tournament. Once the Eagles get through the Regional Tournament, the Elite Eight is being held in Columbus this year on the campus of Ohio Dominican University. 

This is less than an hour and a half drive down I-71 and the games played there will become a virtual home game for Eagles. 

AU fans are not the only ones who recognize the greatness of this team. 

On January 31 the Eagles were once again ranked as the No. 1 team in the country, but this time it was unanimous as they received all 24 first place votes in the WBCA poll.  

At the beginning of the year, the girls got together and established that their one and only goal was to win the national championship, and I believe that this attitude has clearly shown on the court through the first two months of the season.

The depth of the team, the historically good offense and the passion and will to win are just a few of the reasons why we will see the Eagles standing on top of the stage at Ohio Dominican, hoisting the program’s second national championship trophy.

There is passion that was not there a year ago. The experience of the upperclassmen and the youth of the freshmen are the biggest factors in this change. The girls are playing with a love for the game that is impossible to teach – and it shows.