In what has been the most successful and exciting season in UAA women’s basketball history, the surprises keep on coming. With a 69-58 victory over Northwest Nazarene Feb. 24, the Seawolves capped a perfect 15-0 home record.
At the beginning of the season, the Seawolves were picked to finish fifth in the GNAC preseason coaches’ poll. To most UAA basketball fans and supporters, that would have been a successful season. The mystery at the beginning of the season centered on sophomore All-American center Rebecca Kielpinski, new head coach Tim Moser and a cast of new players that had no prior chemistry. Only four players remained from the 2005-2006 squad that went 13-14.
The Seawolves made noise early in the season, winning the first two games over Mid-Continent by an average of 45 points and then winning the team’s second Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout Championship with victories over Division I teams Air Force and UC Riverside.
The Seawolves then proceeded to win the next six games before falling to Northwest Nazarene on the road Jan. 6. After two more victories, the team hit a bump in the road, dropping three straight road games, including a heart-breaking 83-85 overtime loss over in-state rival UAF. Since then, it’s been nothing but perfection, as the Seawolves are riding a seven-game winning streak and are in the hunt for the team’s first ever GNAC championship.
Senior night proved to be an emotional one for UAA, as emotions got the best of the players early on. Northwest Nazarene jumped out of the gates early, taking a 14-2 lead six minutes into the game, which looked to be a disastrous loss. In a postgame television interview, head coach Tim Moser said, “You don’t play well when you’re on emotions; and senior night, I kind of expected it. We tried talking about it before the game, to turn that emotion into intensity.”
The pregame talk coupled with the huge start by the Crusaders sparked the intensity that coach Moser was talking about. UAA went on a 9-0 run capped by a Jayci Stone three-pointer that tied the game at 25-25. UAA surged to the locker room with a 39-33 halftime lead. UAA’s defense solidified in the second half, holding the Crusaders to 23.5 percent shooting. The Seawolves would hold a double-digit lead for the final 16 minutes of play en route to a key 69-58 conference victory.
UAA was led by senior Jayci Stone’s 16-point, 12-rebound performance in her final home game. Kielpinski and junior forward Maria Nilsson, who scored 14 and 13 points respectively, were also key players. Junior guard Jennifer Salazar, who has seen a lot of play because of injuries to the Seawolves’ backcourt, tied her career-high of seven assists and pulled down six rebounds. The Crusaders were led by double-double performances from center Kristin Hein (18 points, 14 rebounds) and forward Danielle Dwello (12 points, 10 rebounds).
The victory was not only special for the four graduating UAA seniors (Stone, Mari Callahan, Meghan Vaughan and Tenecia Lockard of Anchorage), but for the team as a whole, which now finds itself one game behind Seattle Pacific University for the GNAC title. The Seawolves will face a difficult two-game road trip against the Saint Martin’s Saints and the Western Oregon Wolves. Although both SMU and WOU are in the GNAC cellar, Moser knows that overlooking either could cause trouble for his team.
“I think Saint Martin’s is better than people think. They just went to Seattle (Feb. 24) and won. This is a tough league; you’re going to have to play really well to win,” he said.
Although the GNAC title is in sight, Moser knows that his team needs to win both of their upcoming road games and hope that Seattle Pacific falls to NNU or Seattle University.
“The conference championship is kind of out of our hands. We just need to take care of what we need to. We’re not even talking about that, we just want to be the best we can,” Moser said.
The Seawolves are ranked fourth in the NCAA Division II West Regional poll, which largely determines which eight teams will earn a spot in the NCAA Division II postseason tournament. UAA also finds itself with familiar company in the poll, as Seattle Pacific is ranked third and Western Washington is ranked fifth.
For now, the Seawolves can only look to accomplish the task at hand. And winning on the road will be exactly that. Moser’s recipe for success has taken the Lady Seawolves this far already, and it looks as though it can take them as far as they want to go.
“These kids have really bought into what we’re trying to do. A lot of that is said with our leadership from Rebecca Kielpinski and those four young ladies that are leaving our program. It’s tremendous,” Moser said.
Leadership and chemistry were two of the biggest questions entering the 2006-2007 season. Although the core of the leadership will be leaving next season, Moser believes this is only the beginning for Seawolf basketball.
“Those four young women (Stone, Callahan, Vaughan and Lockard) have done a tremendous job. They have set up a foundation, and we’re going to try and set up a championship program,” he said.
Don’t look for the Seawolves to change the way they play. Simplicity and hard work has been a recipe for success this season, and Moser believes that if his girls go out and play their game, the results will be in their favor.
“A lot of coaches try to make this a science, but it comes down to simple things. We’ve got to play real hard for this team to win,” said Moser.