Women’s Basketball Falls in National Championship
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The Whitman women’s basketball team fell to the FDU-Florham Devils in the DIII national title game on Saturday, March 22 with a final score of 80-72, ending a record-breaking season for the Missionaries.
Heading into the 2013-2014 season, Whitman’s team motto was “paving the road to Steven’s Point, Wis.” This was where the Final Four portion of the NCAA Division III Championships would find itself. Not only did Whitman dominate their semi-final matchup, leaving them a game away from a championship, but also were only a handful of points away from a win in the final game.
Though winning it all would have been a more favorable outcome for the team, Senior forward Sarah Anderegg had an alternative outlook on the run her team had that sheds light on just how close this team is.
“Playing in March is the ultimate dream and goal of any athlete. For us, getting to play for the title was much more than winning a trophy; it was more about the fact that we got to play out our entire season with each other,” said Anderegg. “Every game we won in the tournament, we were overjoyed with the fact that we got to play one more game together, and that is something that really propelled us throughout the postseason.”
The championship game was defined by tough defense, even tougher rebounding, and 58 fouls, which is more than one foul per minute.
Jumping out to an early lead and keeping it for most of the first half, Whitman looked as though the championship jitters were nothing but a myth, but with only a one-point lead at the halfway point, it was also apparent to all watching that this game would come down to the wire.
The second half brought numerous lead changes, and each team had their fair share of short runs and successive scoring slumps. One thing that changed from the first half to the second was the pace of the game. Despite the Devil’s high-tempo offense, which stayed fast throughout the contest, fouls started to accumulate early into the half, and in what seemed like only a few minutes, both teams were heading to the line after any foul on the court.
The Missionaries shot a very efficient 50 percent from the field, ultimately scoring four more points from the field than their opponents. Though Florham outshot Whitman narrowly from three point range (36 percent to 33 percent), each team enjoyed 12 points from beyond the arc. For Whitman, all of these came from senior Tiffani Traver, who shot 50 percent from the three-point range. The difference came with Florham grabbing nine more rebounds on offense than the Missionaries, almost all of which led to second- or third-chance points.
In addition to the advantage in rebounding, the Devils enjoyed 12 more trips to the charity stripe than Whitman, and converted exactly 12 more free throws than the Missionaries by the final horn. That 12-point advantage from the line was a huge factor in the outcome of an otherwise evenly-matched game. Most of those free throws came in the second half, resulting from tough defense from the Missionaries that was often just too aggressive for the referees.
Junior guard Heather Johns led both teams scoring, with a 25-point game with 10-17 shooting. Senior Sarah Anderegg was second on the team in scoring, with 15 points of her own to go with seven rebounds. Johns, who is only 5 feet 7 inches tall, also pulled down seven rebounds on the night. Whitman’s third and final player in double digits, Traver, tacked on 13 points, 12 of which were from three-point range.
Senior Meghan White was also a force on both ends of the court. White grabbed six rebounds and scored nine points for the Missionaries.
After making the post-season last year and winning their first two games by close margins, the Missionaries had doubters from day one who were convinced last year’s run was a fluke.
“Last year, going to the tournament was in a sense unexpected. A lot of people thought we got lucky with how far we went, but this year we proved to ourselves and the rest of the country that the Whitman basketball program is a group of talented and dedicated basketball players that deserves to be playing in not only the tournament, but the championship games,” said Anderegg.
This second-place finish capped a historic year for the Missionaries, who finished with a 31-2 and won the Northwest Conference regular season title.
Beyond their extensive stat sheet, the Missionaries have so much else that they are proud of from this season.
“Even though we didn’t win the championship, I still believe we are winners. We won memories, friendships and experiences that not even a trophy could validate and no one can ever take that away from us,” said Anderegg.