Women’s basketball makes a statement

Alli Joerger – Staff Writer

After a convincing win over Augsburg University on Sunday, February 27, the Gustavus Women’s Basketball team earned their first MIAC postseason tournament title in program history. The 65-56 victory represents everything that this particular team has been working towards all season, as well as what the program has been working to create since its inception. Along with giving the Gusties the MIAC postseason title, the win also grants the team a ticket to the NCAA Tournament where the team will be competing against Simpson College on Wednesday, March 4.
The victory itself over Augsburg was one loaded with emotions and bore the culmination of what the team has been working towards. Individuals on the team expressed the seeming unrealness of the entire experience. Senior Grace Benz explained that she was holding onto teammate Sophomore Izzy Quick’s hand to remind herself that the situation was in fact real.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime and unexplainable feeling that you will never forget. We all had tears of joy and tackled each other right at the horn. I replay it in my mind over and over. It was the moment we had all been working so hard for since October,” Benz said.
Claiming the MIAC title also meant that everything the team had invested over this season and seasons past has paid off. “Personally, it felt like all of the hard work over the last couple of years had paid off in an enormous way, and I think that that’s true for everyone else on the team too,” Junior Anna Sanders said.
These sentiments are indeed echoed throughout the team, with Benz emphasizing that “The season is long and it is easy to lose sight of the end goal. To know that all of the long days of practice, lifting weights, sacrifices, and hard work paid off just makes it even more special,” Benz said.
With this being the first time in the program history that the Gusties have claimed the MIAC postseason title, the win emphasizes the uniqueness of this particular team and how they were able to overcome doubt early on. With the team being so young, it was difficult to anticipate what could be accomplished and how well the athletes would be able to perform together.
Head Coach Laurie Kelly explained that the lack of experience was more than made up for in team chemistry and effort. “If someone would have said that this team, with no returning starters, a lot of inexperienced freshmen and sophomores, would do what they have done, I am not sure that even I would have believed it. They are incredible people both on and off the court, and our team chemistry is one of our greatest strengths,” Kelly said.
The chemistry of the Gusties was evident in their performance against Augsburg. The Gusties never lost the lead for the entirety of the game, and capitalized on their fundamentals to defeat the Auggies. Gustavus simply outscored Augsburg, shooting 49.3 percent from the field to Augsburg’s 32.3 percent. Not only that but the Gusties gave themselves plenty of second chances and transition opportunities by out-rebounding the Auggies 42-36.
Strategically, the Gusties knew that their defense needed to be a priority. “I can’t say enough about our team’s defensive efforts over this season. In my 10 years, the best we have ever had. We are one of the top defensive teams in the country and that has really been the difference for us. It takes pressure off our offense to score and allows us to get looks in transition,” Kelly said.
Another strength of the team is their depth throughout, which has previously enabled fewer minutes for the starters and more balance overall. Interestingly, however, the MIAC Championship game revealed a different strategy for the Gusties as only three bench players made court appearances during the game.
This did not stop the bench from contributing directly to the success of the team. “I believe that our bench is the best in the MIAC. On Sunday, I think it really helped having those 3 players come in and make really big plays at big times for us and the entire game it was exciting and comforting to look over and have our bench so invested in the game regardless of what was happening,” Sanders said.
Winning the MIAC gives the Gusties both short and long term ambitions to work towards. The success of the defense will be critical in facing Simpson College, one of the top offensive teams in the country, Coach Kelly explained. Additionally, the investment and passion of the team as a whole will surely continue to be a game changer for the Gusties as they enter the NCAA Tournament.
Winning the MIAC also creates a new precedent for the program as Coach Kelly hopes that this title will be far from the last for the program. The team is “peaking at the right time,” Benz said, which will allow the Gusties to embody Kelly’s conviction that “our best basketball is ahead of us.”

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