Warhawks finish season as national runner-ups

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Mikey Rottier, Assistant Sports Editor

The Warhawk women’s basketball team capped the 2021-22 season with a 28-5 record and an NCAA tournament run that left them just short of a National Championship. Whitewater advanced to the Final Four through a series of tough tournament victories and traveled to UPMC Cooper Field House in Pittsburgh, PA, for the final two rounds. Whitewater defeated Amherst College (Mass.) on Thursday, Mar. 17 in the Final Four and advanced to the National Championship Sunday, Mar. 19. The Warhawks fell to Hope College (MI.) in the national title game. 

In Whitewater’s Final Four showdown, they defeated the Mammoths of Amherst College (Mass.), 55-51. They battled until the final minutes in a close matchup that included ten lead changes and thirteen ties. Both teams took turns with the lead in the fourth quarter but the Warhawks sealed the deal when they gained a four point lead on a pair of free throws from Kacie Carollo in the last three seconds. The free throws gave Carollo 11 points in the game, nine of them coming in the second half.  

“We gave Kacie some touches and ran some sets for her to try and get her some looks at the rim,” Kacie’s mom and head coach, Keri Carollo, said. “When she gets going and sees the ball go in it definitely builds her confidence so she plays with a lot more swagger.” 

  Points were hard to come by for both teams, but Whitewater looked to Aleah Grundahl for a high percentage of their offense. She contributed a full 40 minutes and finished with 18 points, as the game’s leading scorer. Grundahl played aggressively in the post and tallied eight free throws in addition to 10 points in the paint.

“She is just super smart and listens when we tell her to make adjustments and how we want to attack different teams,” coach Carollo said. “She does a great job of following the game plan and knowing what the other team is going to try and do to her. It was so important for us to get her going early and make sure that we were getting her touches and then everything else just seemed to fall in place.”

Whitewater returned to UPMC Cooper Field House just two days later, with a shot at the program’s first National Championship. Despite a competitive game through the first three quarters, Hope College (MI.) pulled away and earned a 71-58 victory.

The Warhawks struggled in the fourth quarter and things started to fall apart. Hope dominated Whitewater defensively and did not allow them to score for six straight minutes. The Flying Dutch capitalized on the Whitewater scoring drought with a 13-0 run that ruined the Warhawks National Championship efforts. 

Whitewater will lose three seniors before next season. Katie Oomens will be moving on from the program, along with Johanna Taylor who was named to the WIAC all defensive team, and Rebekah Schumacher. Schumacher saved the Warhawks season in the Sweet Sixteen with a buzzer-beating layup followed by a 22 point performance the next day that sent Whitewater to the Final Four.

“Making it to the Final Four is something this group of players has never done which made it that much more special for us,” Schumacher said. “I have been coached by some of the best and they have made lasting impacts on my life. I will always hold my time on this team near and dear to my heart.”

The departure of Schumacher and Taylor leaves big shoes to fill in the starting lineup. Luckily for coach Carollo and the Warhawks, co-WIAC player of the year Aleah Grundahl will return for the 2022-2023 season along with WIAC honorable mention Kacie Carollo.  

In her first season with the Warhawks, Kacie became a vital piece of the offensive game plan during the tournament. The freshman proved herself as a late game threat and scored double figures in seven of Whitewater’s post season games. The opportunity to share her breakout season with her mother and coach was the icing on the cake for Kacie who made her mom proud. 

“As a coach and a parent you always wanna have those special moments for your children,” coach Carollo said. “To be able to be her mom and her coach is pretty incredible, and for it to happen in her first season is even more insane.”

Aleah Grundahl was named a second team All-American by d3hoops.com after she led the Warhawks to the NCAA Championship. The junior forward also received recognition as the co-WIAC player of the year, and earned first team all region honors. Grundahl ended the season with a career high in scoring and made her way into the Whitewater history books. Grundahl’s 535 points became the second most for a single season in Whitewater history. She more than doubled her career total and is within striking distance of the program scoring record.

“All the awards that Aleah has received are very much deserved. She puts in a great amount of time, energy and effort into her game so she is very deserving of the recognition she gets,” coach Carollo said.

As a result of the Warhawks outstanding season, Keri Carollo earned WIAC Coach of the year for the fifth time as Whitewater’s head coach. She made her third Final Four appearance and earned her second National runner up title. Coach Carollo will look to lead the Warhawks on another NCAA tournament run in the 2022-2023 season, and take another crack at earning the first National Championship in Warhawk women’s basketball history.