As the Warhawk Women’s Basketball team left Kachel Fieldhouse for the last time, there were many emotions. The 70-62 loss at the hands of the University of Redlands brought tears and sadness, but after the game there was more than just remorse from the early exit from the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m super proud of my team and the season we had,” said coach Keri Carollo. “We battled the whole game.”
The game went down to the wire, and saw the Warhawks chip the lead down to six and later just five points, but Redlands’ Cassandra Lacey was just too much for Whitewater’s WIAC leading defense to handle.
Lacey, a 5-foot-9 senior from Victorville, California put the Warhawks to the sword with her stop-and-pop midrange game and clutch shooting from the free-throw line.
“Cassie is hard to defend because she can get by you and pull up. There’s not too many kids in Division 3 that have the pull-up like she does,” said coach Rich Murphy.
He even said that Lacey, who led all scorers with 26 points, had played through an injury.
“She rolled her ankle two days before we got here, and we’ve just had her in a boot and ice,” said Murphy.
Redlands used an 11-0 run to build a lead in the third quarter, after being ahead five points coming out of halftime. Whitewater struggled to make open baskets, which allowed the California team to build a big lead.
The fourth quarter saw Whitewater fight back. They did work in the post, finishing with 32 points in the paint.
The Warhawks’ comeback was on with about six minutes left, but it seemed like every time they got close, Lacey would hit a clutch pull-up jumper. She made shots in traffic with a hand in her face, with a will to win reminiscent of the late Kobe Bryant.
The Warhawks played well and had plenty of open chances at the basket that they just couldn’t get to fall. Freshman Aleah Grundahl led the Warhawks offensive attack, getting close range buckets and hitting 8 of 10 from the charity stripe. She paired up with Johanna Taylor in the hi-lo post game, and owned the paint.
“Jo really helped me get stronger physically and mentally,” said Grundahl. “We just bounce ideas back and forth to each other.”
While the tandem was effective in the post, the Warhawk guards couldn’t feed their bigs. Instead, they settled for too many running layups and off balance shots. The three Warhawk starting guards finished a combined 8 of 30 from the field.
Taylor did her part, putting up 12 points, 10 boards and a blocked shot.
The game stayed close until the very end, when Whitewater chose to foul, and sent Lacy to the line. She cooly sunk five of six free throws in the last 90 seconds of the game, punching her ticket to the second round of the NCAA Tourney.
The result means that the team has been bounced from the tournament, and their season is over.
The Warhawks’ year was meant to be a rebuild, but apparently no one told this group of players. 23 wins, a league title and a NCAA Tournament at-large bid provides a solid foundation from which to build. They’ll be back next year with four of five starters and postseason experience to boot.