Marian captures NAIA DII Women’s National Championship title

After an up-and-down season that was filled with two 5-3 stretches and a 17-game win streak, the No. 3 seed Marian Knights (No. 9 in the NAIA Coaches Poll) defeated Southern Oregon 59-48 to capture the NAIA DII Women’s National Basketball Championship title. Lakan Hasser-Smith, the unquestioned leader of the Knights, was tied for a team-high 16 points on 6 of 11 shooting.

This win was a culmination of hard work, belief and a successful five-game streak here in Sioux City at the NAIA DII National Championship tournament.

“We really believed all year that we were the best team in the country,” Marian Head Coach Katie Gearlds said. “All year long we believed that we had the best basketball team, it was all about putting it together for forty minutes and we did that for five games this week.”

Both teams had a feeling-out period in the early minutes of the game, but each quickly found their groove soon thereafter. Marian relied heavily on Jenna Sullivan and Kellie Kirkhoff in the first quarter, as both added five points apiece. The Knights leading-scorer, Hasser-Smith, who entering the game was just 16 points away from 2,000 career points, was held scoreless in the first period.

The Raiders, still dealing with the absence of CCC Player-of-the-Year Ashley Claussen, turned to Tiani Bradford and Courtney Setzer for five and four first quarter points. Southern Oregon outrebounded Marian 11-5 in the first quarter, but the Knights received five bench points and six points off of turnovers.

Marian dominated the second quarter, thanks to Hasser-Smith finally getting in a rhythm. After starting 0 for 3 from the field and zero first quarter points, she scored 11 points in the second quarter on 4 of 4 shooting and 3 of 3 shooting from behind the three-point line.

After Hasser-Smith started heating up, the Knights offense burned the Raider defense, and with that, brought a big momentum swing in favor of Marian. Marian went on a 10-0 run midway through the quarter, outscored and outrebounded Southern Oregon 19-8 and 14-7 respectively. Marian maintained a 35-22 lead at halftime.

It was a struggle to score for both teams in the second half as only 18 total points were scored.

The Raiders controlled the pace of play in the third quarter, as they held the Knights scoreless on 0 for 11 shooting for nearly four minutes to start the quarter. For the quarter as a whole, Marian scored just seven points, compared to SOU’s 10. Meister knocked down two free throws, before Hasser-Smith made a jumper at the buzzer to give the Knights a nine point lead entering the fourth quarter.

Fans and players alike were witnesses to history during the fourth quarter.

At the 9:20 mark, for the first basket by either team in the quarter, Hasser-Smith connected on a corner three-pointer to reach a historic milestone — 2,000 career points.

It was difficult for Hasser-Smith to sum up what that milestone means to her.

“It feels awesome. I can’t even find the right words for it,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without all my teammates and coaches.”

The primary story of the fourth quarter was the Raiders inability to score down the stretch, presumably in part, because of Claussen’s absence. For the second half as a whole, Southern Oregon shot just 22 percent from the field and the three-point line.

Kellie Kirkhoff finished a floater in the lane and knocked down the free throw at the 6:12 mark to put the Knights up eight, but more importantly, gave a big momentum swing to Marian. The Knights knocked down seven free throws in the last minute of the game to give Marian University their first ever women’s basketball national championship in school history.

“It hasn’t sunk in,” Gearlds said. “This right here, as a coach, is so special to see their faces and their joy and realize how much work they put into it.”

This is the third championship across all sports this season for Marian University, with both the football team and Men’s basketball team, along with the Women’s basketball team tonight, capturing championships during the 2015-2016 season.

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Southern Oregon drops Goshen, advances to championship game

Despite losing the Cascade Conference Player of the Year, Ashley Claussen, in the previous game to a knee injury, Southern Oregon used frenzied defense and a balanced offensive attack to defeat Goshen College 84-69 to advance to the NAIA DII National Championship game. Courtney Setzer led the Raiders with 17 points on 8 of 10 shooting, while Autumn Durrand chipped in 16 points and six rebounds of her own.

The Maple Leafs usual offensive weapons were cold, as Gabby Williams led the Maple Leafs with 21 points on 9 of 12 shooting. Head Coach Stephanie Miller cited her team’s fatigue, after playing four games this week alone, and the Raider defense, as reasons for the poor shooting.

“We really exerted a lot of energy to play a lot of teams and play the way we did,” Miller said. “We played a really good team that is really good at playing a team that is good at making you play frazzled and we just really couldn’t get into a rhythm.”

The Raiders’ defense, who entering the game ranked 2nd in the country with a 7.6 turnover margin and averaging 15 steals per games, kept to that usual trend in the first half. The Raiders forced 12 turnovers in the first half, while only committing five. They also nabbed eight steals, compared to the Maple Leafs’ two.

It was the Raiders signature style of up-tempo, pressure defense that seemed to cause so many problems for Goshen College. That defense caused three Maple Leafs’ turnovers in the first three minutes and forced seven in the first quarter. They also managed to slow down Goshen’s primary scorers, holding Jo’Mani Thomas and Tyra Carver to just three and four points in the first half. Williams led the Maple Leafs in first half scoring, with 10 points, but failed to score in the second quarter.

With the loss of Claussen looming, the Raiders’ bench stepped up in a big way in the first half. Southern Oregon’s bench contributed 24 of their 45 first half points, compared to Goshen’s bench, who added just 12 of the Maple Leafs’ 34 points. Setzer shot 6 for 6 from the field in the first half and led the Raiders with 13 first half points.

Head Coach of Southern Oregon Alex Carlson credited his bench as playing a big role in the game.

“I don’t think you see teams that have so many people that contribute like we did tonight,” Carlson said. “It’s really special to be apart of.”

The Maple Leafs raised their energy level after halftime, but never got within true striking distance of the Raiders.

After halftime, Autumn Durand shot two free throws after the Goshen College bench picked up a technical foul, which put the Raiders up 13. Williams got back-to-back baskets and Tecca knocked down a corner three to cut the lead to seven near the halfway point of the quarter. Both teams traded back-to-back turnovers, before Carly Meister got an old-fashioned three-point play to put the Raiders back up 10.

Southern Oregon scored baskets on two straight possessions to go up 62-48 heading into the fourth quarter. The Maple Leafs’ made a late charge, but never got within ten points in the fourth quarter. With the victory, Southern Oregon moves on to face Marian University (Ind.) in the national championship game on Tuesday at 7 p.m. on ESPN3.

Carlson realizes the unique challenge Marian poses.

“They can really shoot it and I think they are playing the best basketball during the tournament,” Carlson said. “We only have to beat them once though. So we’re going to come out and give it our all and see if we can put one together.”

Upstart Mount Marty upsets Olivet Nazarene, moves on to semifinals

Mount Marty was picked 9th in the preseason GPAC standings. Tonight, the Lancers upset No. 1 seed Olivet Nazarene 98-76 to move on to the semifinals. The Lancers held the Tigers to their lowest point total of the season and with the win, will make their first semifinal appearance in school history.

“I didn’t think we were underdogs. I even had someone tell me that no one in the building thought we would win tonight,” Alex Kneeland said. “We didn’t need anybody to think that, because we knew we had a shot. It’s us against the world and we’ve been winning.”

Logan Wagner led the Lancers with 18 points on 7 of 9 shooting. Raquel Setura also added 11 points and nine rebounds. Jayne Stuart led the Tigers with 18 points.

It was Mount Marty that impressed in the first half against the Tigers of Olivet Nazarene. The Lancers came out firing and received significant production from multiple players. Raquel Setura led the Lancers with eight first half points on 2 of 4 shooting. Kellie Winckler and Erica Dreckman also added seven points apiece. The Lancers shot 52 percent on from the field on 16 of 31 shooting, while shooting 43 percent from three-point range.

The Tigers were limited offensively, shooting just 30 percent on 12 of 14 from the field and 21 percent from behind the arc on 6 of 28 shooting. Hengesbach kept the Tigers in the game in the first half, with nine points on 4 of 5 shooting. Ally Giampapa also added seven points on 2 of 9 shooting.

The Tigers forced 11 turnovers in the half, but were bothered by foul trouble. Olivet Nazarene tallied 15 team fouls at the break, while Mount Marty committed just nine. A lone bright spot for the Tigers came in the form of second-chance points, which is something they’re accustomed to. The Tigers outscored the Lancers nine to four in second chance points, but were down 47-36 at halftime.

Olivet Nazarene’s woes continued in the second half, where they were constantly in foul trouble and struggled to hit the three ball. The heart and soul of the Tigers, Abbey Hengesbach, fouled out of the game at the 2:41 mark in the third quarter. Logan Wagner, Winckler and Kneeland hit three shots on back-to-back-to-back possessions and the Lancers went up 16. They took a 81-62 lead into the fourth quarter.

During the fourth quarter, the rout was on. Olivet Nazarene kept shooting in volume, but Mount Marty was too far ahead. The team effort tonight encapsulated what this Lancers team has been like all season.

“This is a team we’re really comfortable with. I think they’re comfortable with the coaching staff,” Mount Marty Head Coach Tom Schlimgen said. “We said coming in here that we think we’re as good as anyone.”

Mount Marty will have a chance to again prove the doubters wrong, this time against No. 3 seed Marian (Ind.) at 6 p.m. on Monday in the semifinals.

No. 1 Morningside stunned by Marian

No. 3 seed Marian University (Ind.) shocked the world on Saturday evening, upsetting the defending national champion Morningside Mustangs 76-69 in front of packed, Mustang home crowd. Lakan Hasser-Smith led the Knights with 19 points on 7 of 16 shooting. In the loss, Morningside’s Jessica Tietz finished with a game-high 31 points and 14 rebounds.

“We knew we had to play perfect today. We didn’t play perfect 100 percent, but we played as pretty close as we could,” Marian Head Coach Katie Gearlds said. “It was a combination of us hitting shots and them missing shots.”

Marian seemed un-phased that they were playing the defending national champions in a de facto home game for No. 1 seed Morningside. The Knights shot 42 percent from the field, 30 percent from three and outscored the Mustangs 22-16 on points in the paint in the first half.

The Knights jumped out to a lead in the first quarter, thanks to a balanced scoring attack from a number of players in the first half. Lakan Hasser-Smith led Marian with eight first half, while Anastacia Kirby and Jessica Almeida added seven and six of their own.

Despite exiting the game for a brief time for an apparent ankle injury, Tietz carried the load for Morningside, finishing the half with 13 points and six rebounds on 6 of 9 shooting. The Mustangs struggled from behind the arc early, shooting just 14 percent on 2 of 14 shooting.

Ultimately, three pointers were the keys to the game. Marian outshot Morningside 10 three’s to two and outshot them to 38 percent to seven percent for the Mustangs.

“It’s been a long time since we shot the ball that well from the perimeter,” Gearlds said. “Our kids stepped up and knocked them down.”

Madison Braun knocked down a three early in the second quarter and after a flagrant foul called against Marian, Wollenburg knocked down a pair of free throws to trim the lead to three. Almeida and Sarah Brewer knocked down a pair baskets to put the Knights up by three with just under six minutes remaining.

Lauren Lehmkuhl and Hasser-Smith traded old-fashioned three-point plays, before Kellie Kirkhoff buried a three-pointer to send the Knights into the locker room with a 39-34 lead.

Marian committed two straight turnovers to start the second half, which allowed the Mustangs to chip away at the deficit. Ackerman and Tietz scored quickly cutting the lead to four. Almedia and Kirkoff each got a bucket midway through the quarter, but Tietz refused to go away. She knocked down a jumper and a free throw to bring the defending champs back within seven.

Marian hit big-time bucket after big-time bucket in the fourth quarter. Hasser-Smith canned an early three and two possessions later, Sarah Brewer knocked down a corner three-pointer to extend the lead to six. Kellie Kirkhoff and Jenna Sullivan knocked down three-pointers on back-to-back possessions to neutralize the crowd and take away all momentum from the Mustangs.

Hasser-Smith knocked down two more late baskets to put the Knights up seven with 1:36 remaining. Morningside attempted a last-ditch effort, but they simply ran out of time.

With the win, Marian advances to the semifinals and will take on the winner of the Southern Oregon-Tabor game. Despite the win, Marian is not satisfied with their performances thus far.

“We’re not done here,” Hasser-Smith said. “We just have to keep pushing because we have a lot left to do.”

The System: The method behind the madness for Olivet Nazarene

“I saw it and thought it was crazy and thought, ‘This is not basketball,’ and never thought I would see it ever again.” This was Lauren Stamatis’ initial thought when she first saw it in action. It, being “the system.”

“The system,” as it is commonly referred to as, is the scheme that the Olivet Nazarene Women’s Basketball team plays within. “The system,” or the descendants of it, were made famous by schools in California. Paul Westhead, who coached at the Loyola Marymount University (Calif.) from 1985-1990, is credited with the flashiest version of “the system.”

While at Loyola, Westhead implemented elements of the transition run and shoot offense, which places an emphasis on scoring as fast as possible, as often as possible and involves taking the fastest available shot. After Westhead’s stints at Loyola and in the NBA ended, other versions of “the system” materialized, including David Arsenault’s popular, modern version at Grinnell College (Iowa).

Stamatis learned about the system while playing college basketball at the University of Redlands (Calif.) from 1992-1995. Although the men’s team and not Stamatis’s team ran this scheme, she was well aware of its lethal capabilities. After wrapping up her playing career, she became a Graduate Assistant at Olivet Nazarene University (Illi.) where she was under the tutelage of Doug Porter.

Under Porter, she was able to fully grasp all of the elements of this style of play.

“He was the one I learned everything from and all the behind the scenes stuff,” she said.

Stamatis took over as head coach at ONU in 2012, but while she was still an assistant, then coach Doug Porter posed an interesting question to Stamatis — one that would have an impact on the rest of her career.

“He asked me, when I was an assistant, “would you run this [system] if you were a head coach?’,” she explained. “I said ‘I don’t know’.”

Stamatis’s team does run “the system” and they’re by far the most exciting team in all of NAIA-DII women’s basketball. They assemble more of a hockey team, at times, than a basketball team. They play all sixteen players relatively equal playing time, substitute five players at a time and full court press and trap the entire game. Because of these nontraditional elements “the system” requires, it is sometimes considered “not real basketball” from afar.

The five main principles are run, shoot, rebound, press and sub. The Tigers have the fastest pace in the country, out-shoot, out-rebound, out-press and certainly, out substitute everyone.

Stamatis handles all elements of “the system.” All except for the substitutions.

“Chase Deaton, he’s our graduate assistant, and he runs all of our substitutions and line changes, so we prescript that prior to the game and all of the girls know, so we literally have a chart that says time and each of their names in order of what position they’re playing,” she said.

Deaton can be seen sitting on the bench, clipboard and stopwatch in hand. He times each possession and every 30-35 seconds, shouts out five names for a new platoon of players to enter the game for the Tigers. The five players jump up, run to the scorer’s table and enter the game in waves. The mass substitution method allows the team to play their entire roster every game, keep players fresh and most importantly, run their blistering brand of basketball.

“Because it’s so fast-paced and because you’re only sitting for thirty second, to me, as long as you’re engaged when on the bench, if you’re cheering your teammates on, or talking to your shift and talking things out, you don’t really feel out of it,” Jayne Stuart said.

The Tigers’ unique style of play, which includes large quantities, limited “traditional” play sets, and non-stop running, allows them to practice for a less than traditional amount of time, too. The Tigers’ practices usually last forty-five minutes and don’t resemble normal college basketball practices.

“Before practice, we do a shoot around or individual work, then once practice starts we have a three-point drill,” Carlee Nicolas said. “It’s either 100 threes or five by ten threes and normally we go into a half-court, go through our options, then press offense and press defense.”

As far as traditional plays or a thick playbook goes, the Tigers don’t have them. Stamatis described their “plays” as five “quick hitters.”

“We have options,” Hengesbach said. “We’re always trying to attack first, but then within that, its not like we stand there and blankly stand in the half court.”

The idea of shorter practices, quick-shot mentalities and fifteen-girl rotations are certainly appealing for current players, as well as recruits.

“I think the thing about it is that there is structure where you do and don’t do, but there is freedom to use your skills, abilities and instincts and that’s what makes it really fun,” Stamatis said. “Who doesn’t want that? The coach is yelling at you for not shooting the ball. That’s fun.”

Opposing teams appear to despise playing against Olivet Nazarene because of their system. Olivet’s star player, Abbey Hengesbach, played against the Tigers at one time while at Concordia University (Mich.) and remembers how overwhelming it can all be.

“It’s horrible [playing against “the system”],”Hengesbach said. “I was in really good shape and it just wears on you. The first half isn’t as tough, but once you get into the second half, it just wears on you.”

For as many skeptics there are of “the system,” there are an equal number theories on how to slow them down. In the first round of the 2016 NAIA DII National Championship, Indiana East University played four players on offense, with one player dropped back on defense for the entire time.

As bizarre as that may seem, it’s far from the strangest strategy the Tigers have seen.

“They would throw it out of bounds and down the hallway to slow us down,” Stuart said of Ashford University’s strategy against them on November 4. “They would just chuck it. It was really frustrating.”

By far, the two biggest questions surrounding Olivet Nazarene’s style of play involves defense and whether a team with this style can win a championship.

The Tigers allow about 90 points per game, but average slightly more than 110 points per game. The fact that they allow such a high number of points draws skepticism, but Stamatis prefers to look at the idea of defense from a different perspective.

“It just depends on what you define as defense, a lot of teams define holding a team to 55 points as good defense,” she said. “For us, we’re forcing 33 turnovers [per game] and we’re coming out on top with points so it doesn’t matter.”

The Tigers even believe that defense is the basis for their success.

“We’re not going to grind and body up in the post, but we play 90 feet of defense and I don’t think any other team here, even at nationals, does that,” Hengesbach said. “You ask anyone on our team now, defense is what we pride ourselves on.”

The other looming question – whether a team that runs this obscure style of play can ever win a championship – is a lot trickier to answer.

“We’ve been doubted and I think we even doubted ourselves,” Stewart said. “But we started to believe that we could be a national championship team.”

Stamatis believes that some of the questions surrounding her team are, in part, because what they do is confusing and teams with this style have a lack of track record.

“Those people are looking at it from the standpoint of that your style of play is a cure-all and means you’re going to win the game. No, it’s always the talent, the personnel, how people play together and how well you execute within the style of play,” she said. “I think I can see people saying that, because how many teams have been to the national tournament running this style of play? I believe it’s just us.”

Stamatis and the Tigers still have quite the road in front of them if they want to capture a title. The first step, beating No. 3 seed Mount Marty (S.D.) in the quarterfinals Saturday night.

If the Tigers prove the skeptics wrong and win the national title, Stamatis won’t just be going home with a championship trophy.

“We had a joke this year [after beating Oklahoma Wesleyan and College of the Ozarks] that if we win a national championship that I’ll get a full tattoo arm sleeve,” Stamatis laughed. “They’re riding this and the rest of the year they’ve been chanting ‘Road to the Arm Sleeve.’”

Started from the bottom, now they’re here

In February of 2013, Stephanie Miller and her Goshen College Maple Leafs Women’s Basketball team had just lost a road game to Huntington University (Ind.) — their 14th loss in a 15-game stretch. The game was a near foregone conclusion from the beginning and culminated in an 84-47-blowout loss.

Miller remembers that game painstakingly well.

“We fell apart at the end and there was all kinds of drama and blame flying around, player to player, coach to coach,” Miller said. “I went in my office and remember shutting the door and thinking, ‘man, this had been such a project and this isn’t going anywhere.’”

Miller, now a 47-year old former Division 1 softball player from Grosseile, Michigan, has been through the ringer during her time at Goshen. Her first year, the 2011-12 season, started without a recruiting class because of her August hiring, and resulted in 3-27 overall and winless conference record. Her next season, the 2012-13 campaign, her first real season at the helm of her own program, wasn’t much better.

“We brought in some pieces and hoped they could play…but we didn’t have the senior leadership that allowed them to grow,” Miller said.

That year, too, resulted in a 3-27 overall record and just one conference victory. But Miller saw potential in that recruiting class, which now features three of the Maple Leafs most important pieces – Tyra Carver, Liz Tecca and Jo’mani Thomas. The following season, Miller added Lynnia Noel, a skilled guard from South Side High School in Fort Wayne, Ind. After Noel and the rest of the 2013 class arrived, Miller saw a change in her team.

“It was [Carver’s] sophomore year, Lynnia’s freshman year, where we had the talent and the pieces were coming together on the court. Our problem, we had talented freshman and sophomores, but were sending out freshman and sophomores to play against other teams juniors and seniors,” Miller recalls. “That group was really resilient and didn’t give up. They stuck together and that was the difference.”

Despite the culture shift and talent increase, the Maple Leafs won just four games, bringing their total to 10 wins in three years. That track record would’ve been enough for most teams and players to question themselves. But when things got difficult – and they got difficult a lot during those first two years for Carver and Noel – they thought back to why they came to Goshen College in the first place.

Both Carver and Noel were sold on three basic premises: playing time and the ability to build something, the education Goshen College offers and the family-like atmosphere within the Maple Leafs team dynamic.

“The family aspect shows when we play because that’s really how we feel,” Noel said.

Miller’s fourth year at the helm, after amassing just a 10-80 record the previous three seasons; all the hard work and dedication started paying dividends for the self-described “gritty” girls from Goshen.

The Maple Leafs went 18-13 during the 2014-15 season and went 9-9 in conference play. But even then, Goshen’s opponents felt their winning ways were merely a fluke.

“When we used to win last year people said, ‘Oh, it’s a fluke. Goshen is not supposed to be here and that wasn’t supposed to happen,’” Noel said.

Now, that’s the last thing teams are saying about Goshen. The Maple Leafs, fresh off an 85-82 buzzer-beater that sent 2015 national runner-up Concordia University (Neb.) packing, a 84-66 drumming of No. 1 Saint Xavier and the first ever national tournament victory for Goshen College across all sports, the country and host-city, Sioux City, IA, are taking notice.

“It feels good to knock off a top-seed team, especially the path we’ve taken to get here and after losing to them in December,” Tyra Carver said. “It’s kind of unreal. It hasn’t sunk in yet.”

“It definitely validated our spot here,” Noel gleamed. “We’ve done so many things in a short amount of time that we never thought we could accomplish.”

Goshen’s ascendance feels very Cinderella-esque. But don’t tell them they’re arriving to the dance in a pumpkin.

“We’re not the cleanest team in the tournament and we’re rougher around the edges,” Miller stated emphatically. “We don’t care about that. We’re not driving a convertible Mustang, we’re driving a Ford truck and I’m OK with that.”

In a five-year span, the Goshen College Women’s Basketball team went from a Crossroads League doormat to the feel-good story of the 2016 NAIA Women’s National Basketball Championship tournament.

They epitomize the phrase “started from the bottom” and that, simultaneously, makes them perhaps the most humble and hungry team left in the tournament field.

“Starting from the bottom like this has made us humble and made us appreciate everyday…because we’ve been on the other end of these situations,” Noel said.

That perspective shows in their physical, passionate style of play.

“We’re tough, battle-tested and for me, toughness trumps pretty. We’re gritty,” Miller exclaimed. “The kids have attitude from where they’ve been…for me, getting here is a testament for perseverance and what that can do for you. It’s an inspirational story.”

Goshen will take on No. 3 seed Dakota Wesleyan on Saturday at 1 p.m. with a semifinal birth on the line, but regardless of how that game and the rest of the Maple Leafs’ season goes, they’ve made history and left a lasting legacy for years to come.

“I love that feeling of taking the program to places it hasn’t been and knowing that I’ve been apart of that,” Noel said. “It just makes this experience that much better. That we did it.”

2nd half comeback propels Mount Marty to quarterfinals

A second half comeback lifted the No. 3 seed Mount Marty Lancers over No. 2 seed the College of the Ozarks by a score of 74-67. With the win, the Lancers have cemented their place into the quarterfinals and the Mount Marty record books.

“We said that once we got to the sweet 16, that’s the furthest Mount Marty has ever been, so we said this could be the biggest game in Mount Marty history,” Head Coach Tom Schlimgen said. “So that was our thing for this game.”

Alex Kneeland led the Lancers with 27 points on 8 of 18 shooting and Cassidy Gebhart added 10 points and four rebounds of her own. Hannah Wisdom led the Bobcats with 17 points, while Brandy Uchtman added 15 points and 10 rebounds of her own.

The final game in the second round of the NAIA Women’s DII National Championship tournament pitted perennial power, No. 2 seed College of the Ozarks against the newcomer, the No. 3 seed Lancers from Mount Marty.

The Lancers came out on a red-hot start, outscoring College of the Ozarks 28-13 after the first quarter. Mount Marty’s star, Alex Kneeland, outscored the entire Bobcat team in the first quarter, tallying 16 points.

As a team, Mount Marty shot 45 percent from the field in the first half on 14 of 31 shooting and shot 42 percent from behind the three-point line on 8 of 19 attempts. The Bobcats’ results were similar, shooting 45 percent from the field on 13 of 29 shooting and 40 percent from behind the arc on 4 of 10 shooting.

College of the Ozarks received significant scoring contributions from three different players, Cassidy Johnson, Uchtman and Kelsie Cleeton. Johnson had nine points at the half, while Uchtman and Johnson tallied 10 and 11. Other than Kneeland, Mount Marty only had more than one player score more than five at halftime.

The Bobcats stormed back in the 2nd quarter, thanks an old-fashioned three-point play, followed by a three-pointer from Uchtman. Sutera knocked down a three at the 1:00 mark and Mount Marty trailed by just one at halftime.

“That [rally] was huge,” College of the Ozarks Head Coach Becky Vest said. “That’s how our kids are, they battle night in and night out and never gave up. It took guts to come back.”

Mount Marty came out strong in the second half and refused to relinquish their lead. Kneeland made two free throws and the very next possession, converted an acrobatic layup that turned into an old-fashioned three-point play for the Lancers. That layup sparked the crowd’s energy and gave the Lancers a six point lead heading into the fourth.

Wisdom knocked down an early shot and sunk a three-pointer to cut the lead to five. Kneeland continued to knock down late free throws as the Lancers hung on to advance to the quarterfinals.

“It’s awesome,” Mount Marty guard Cassidy Gebhart said. “Coach has never been here and we’ve never been here. It’s a pretty great experience and there’s no words that you can say to it.”

In the quarterfinals, the Lancers will face off against the hot-shooting Olivet Nazarene Tigers on Saturday at 8 p.m.