Women’s basketball wraps up with trip to final four

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As the end of the second half drew near, the outcome was apparent: 1 minute left, the Seawolves down, 57-80. Bang. The Mavericks’ Lauren Barber executes another flawless three-pointer that stings that much more. Nonetheless, the Seawolves, not a team to go down without a fight, pressed on and Tamar Gruwell puts in one more three to show their endurance, ending their 2009 Final Four appearance, 60-83.
Although this may seem like a bittersweet ending, the women of the UAA basketball team have nothing to regret. They gave it their all and as a result, did even better than the outstanding 07-08 season.
The Seawolves’ success this season included a championship three-peat at the 2008 Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout, being ranked the No. 1 Division II women’s team in the nation for three weeks straight, defeating conference foe Seattle Pacific on their home court for the second year in a row to take the West Region Championship and making a valiant appearance in the Final Four.
This outcome was uncertain and some might even say unexpected in the beginning, however, as the Seawolves lost the three top scoring seniors the year before.
“As our coaching staff, we thought we were going to be good but when you lose Maria and Jenn and Kahlie off the team, we didn’t know if we could replace the width,” third year head coach Tim Moser said in an interview earlier this season.
The team consisted of seven returnees, one of which chose to red shirt, and 15 newcomers. The Seawolves didn’t let those facts bother them, however, and started their winning ways even though it was apparent there was some adjusting to be done.
“It’s hard for me because we have so many different weapons,” Moser said after their Jan. 22 win against Northwest Nazarene. “The first half is just me trying to figure out whose night it’s going to be and which one is going to step up. I’m going to go totally bald by the end of this season.”
That element of the Seawolves may have been tough to figure out but ended up a blessing for the team. The depth of the UAA bench continued to develop and with that came well rounded scoring and a long winning streak.
Scoring was distributed evenly throughout 10 of their 14 players, 7 of those 10 averaging over 6 points per game. The top five scorers of the season were Nicci Miller, Rebecca Kielpinski, the afore mentioned Gruwell, Ruby Williams, who returned to the Seawolves after being ineligible for the fall semester, and Dasha Basova.
Combined with the depth of the bench was the Seawolves’ award winning defense, allowing UAA to rack up 222 more defensive rebounds than their opponents while keeping their opponents to a meager average of 49 points per game.
As far as defense went, there were certain sparks to fuel the fire.
Junior guard Kiki Taylor often sparked the team on defense, from her two steals against the Syracuse Oranges to help the Seawolves win the 2008 Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout, all the way to her steal against the Clayton State Lakers in the final minutes of the quarterfinal game to break the tie and earn the ‘Wolves a berth into the Final Four.
Another spark who was described by Coach Moser as having “ice in her veins” and being “the smallest kid on the floor but has the biggest heart” was Jackie Thiel. This 5’4″ guard offered consistently intense defense and leadership on the floor, as well as averaging six points per game.
Hanna Johansson offered up well rounded stats throughout the season and was often credited by Coach Moser as the spark that got the team going. Johansson’s defense was well balanced with her offense, where she kept a 55 percent field goal average and was second on the team in offensive rebounds with 50.
No one can ignore the stats that the senior center, the All-American and the team high scorer of the season, Kielpinski has put up. This Seawolf has taken over the stat sheets since she started playing her freshman year and always offered her A-game along with never ending encouragement for her team mates.
In an interview earlier this season, Kielpinski said, “We have to encourage each other; we are together a lot, so why not enjoy it?”
The encouragement obviously worked, as the Seawolves managed a 22 game winning streak in the early season.
The winning streak, however, came to an unexpected road block when the Seawolves lost back to back games to Seattle Pacific, the same team who had ended the Seawolves’ winning streak in 07-08 and Northwest Nazarene. These losses also took them from No. 1 in the nation to No. 6.
The Seawolves recovered by rallying against Central Washington, 70-35, and soon after taking the West Region Championship by beating Seattle Pacific on their home floor.
Déj? vu of the 2008 West Region? No, just sweet revenge for the second year in a row.
The Seawolves went into the Elite Eight only to fight a back and forth battle against Clayton State, somehow overcoming 31 turnovers and earning their berth into the Final Four where they lost to the Minnesota State – Mankato Mavericks.
Getting to the 2009 D-II Final Four for the second year in a row was no fluke. The Seawolves had their eye on the prize from the beginning and overcame various difficulties, such as player ineligibility and their unexpected back-to-back losses in Feb. to take that prize.