The question of this basketball season is “What can’t the Lady Foresters do?”
Not only have Lori Culler’s crew claimed wins over top seed in the Crossroads League, Indiana Wesleyan University, and the reigning national champions, the University of St. Francis, but they have grinded their way to the final round of the conference tourney.
There is more on the line though tonight than a mere championship – there is the chance to reclaim the Foresters’ place to return to Sioux City, Iowa to compete on the national stage.
Although toppled by the Foresters, the IWU Wildcats have already secured their spot by winning the outright CL regular season championship with a 16-1 record in league play. Culler’s women wrestled the semifinal win away from the Wildcats Feb. 27, behind the dominant offensive orchestration of senior Courtney Baker. With 14 rebounds and 10 assists for the night, Baker is regarded as one of the top players in the league as she leads the conference in assists, averaging 4.83 per game.
Baker said that the team’s mentality is what helped propel the upset over IWU.
“Against IWU, we had the mentality to play hard, play for Jesus, and play for each other,” she said. “It sounds simple I know, but I think when you focus on those three things that whatever the outcome is you can be satisfied.”
Culler’s talent has also come in the way of Amelia Recker. Posting up 24 points in the semifinal game, the junior posted up 23 points in the quarterfinal game against Goshen College, earning her repeat honors as the CL player of the week for the second time this season.
Teammate sophomore Miranda Palmer has earned similar honors, twice being named as the player of the week. Palmer is known for her deadly trey from downtown and being an offensive weapon, leading the team in scoring.
Culler’s squad ranks first in the nation for its division for free throw percentage (0.816) and ranks third in three-point percentage. However, Culler said they are aware of the task at hand tonight as they look to upset second seed Marian University.
“At this point it looks like all of the at-large bids to the National Tournament are going to be taken before they get to us at number 22 in the rankings, so we are glad at this point to still have a say in our own destiny,” Culler said. “If we can pull off another upset in the tournament against Marian, we’ll secure an automatic bid to the tournament and won’t need to worry about the at-large bids.”
In order to accomplish this feat, Culler said the biggest obstacle will be the Knights leading NAIA Division II in field goal percentage at 47.7%.
Part of the critical defensive effort will fall to 6’ 2” junior Jaclene Bonnema and 6’ 0” senior Amelia Echemann. Echemann said that the team must mentally prepare for the contest.
“Marian is a very tough team and surprised most of the conference this year,” she said. “They are very determined and want this as much as we do. However, our minds must be in game-mode, and we must play together to win.”
Marian (14-4 in conference, 27-5 overall) upset St. Francis at the buzzer 84-83 in overtime Feb. 27 to get to the final round.
The Foresters (11-7 in conference, 22-8 overall) have not faired well against the Knights this year. The Knights dealt HU a 82-73 loss at Platt Arena Nov. 25 and then on their own court Jan. 24, 75-65. This will be even more reason for the Foresters to look to avenge its regular season double-digit losses.