Nyden Hill – Staff Writer
This past weekend, the Gustavus women’s basketball team traveled to UW-Whitewater to take part in the 2023 NCAA tournament. Entering the tournament, the Gusties were riding a kind of momentum that was beyond anything ever seen in program history. Aside from being ranked in the top-10 in NCAA DIII basketball, they claimed both the 2023 MIAC regular and postseason titles, a feat that had only been accomplished once before. Heading into their first round matchup against Ohio Wesleyan, the Gusties’ mindset had not seemed to change since conference play and the regular season.
“We were feeling really good and excited. Because we were matched up with another non-hosting team, we knew that there wasn’t going to be a crazy crowd difference and were really confident in ourselves,” Junior guard Emma Kniefel, said.
From the very beginning of the action, the Gusties wasted no time getting out to an early lead, ending the first quarter with an 11 point lead (27-16). This same momentum carried over to the second half, where they increased their margin to 14 points off a made three pointer by Senior guard, Anna Sanders. At the end of the half, the Gusties stood in firm command of the game, with a 14 point lead, at 46-32.
While they built a significantly large lead and had momentum throughout the first half, the Gusties built their largest lead of the game in the third quarter, 24 points ahead. Much of this offensive effort can be attributed to Sanders, who rattled off seven of the team’s 24 total points in the third quarter. Junior forward, Izzy Quick, who was injured earlier this season but was still a key contributor to the MIAC championship team, had this to say about the flow of the game from a sideline perspective: “I thought we played really well. There were times where Ohio went on runs but we thought back every time they punched we punched back. I thought we moved the ball really well and attacked their weaknesses. We were prepared for the press and knew how to handle the pressure going into the first game. Our team did a really good job of getting the ball inside for touches and kicking out to our guards as well,” said Quick.
In the fourth quarter, the Ohio Wesleyan fought back, rattling off 21 points, to the Gusties’ 15. However, this comeback was not enough to close the gap, as the Gusties emerged as the winners, ending the game as 16 point victors, with the final score being 84-68.
“It is hard for anybody else to stop our team because we just have so many people that can score. If I am a coach scouting our team, it really makes it hard because we have so many people that can score on any night,” said Sophomore forward Rachel Kawiecki.
In the second round of the tournament, the Gusties faced the site hosts in the UW-Whitewater Warhawks. Still riding the momentum of the previous night’s victory over Ohio Wesleyan, the Gusties carried a similar mindset heading into their second round matchup.
“Going into the second round, we were all very confident and definitely more on edge due to this game being for a sweet sixteen spot,” said Kniefel.
However, this momentum found itself halted in the first quarter, as the Gusties played from behind from the very beginning of play. Concluding the first quarter, the Warhawks had situated themselves in the lead, with the Gusties trailing 11-18.
Starting the second quarter, the Gusties attempted to ignite the spark that they had in their first game against Wesleyan with a three pointer from Sophomore guard, Kylie Baranick. This effort was punctuated by two free throws being made just three minutes later to tie the game at 18-18.
While this offensive push put the Gusties back in the ball game, it was unfortunate that it was short lived. The Warhawks would go on to rattle off 15 total points in the second quarter and end the half 33-21.
Throughout the second half of play, the Gusties constantly battled to tighten the gap that the Warhawks had created. In the third quarter, a Gustie offensive push cut the gap to nine points, after which both teams battled, going back and forth for the remainder of the third quarter.
In the fourth and final quarter of play, the Warhawks pulled away, increasing their lead to as many as 17. However, this did not discourage the Gusties, as thanks to a series of clutch plays made in the final seconds, as the MIAC champions found themselves in the ball game, only down by three points, with 21 seconds left.
While this final push was nothing short of admirable, it came a little too late, and a pair of free throws by the Warhawks sealed the game, defeating the Gusties 68-63. While this may not be the ending the Gusties’ envisioned, they had an absolutely historic season, finishing with the most wins in program history (26) and making a run in the NCAA tournament.