STORY BY MICHAEL WENDLANDT
It was a rough spring break for the Women’s Basketball team as they fell in the first round of both the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT). Drake played inspired, sound basketball, but was done-in by some impressive performances by their opponents.
“This was a major step for our program,” head coach Jennie Baranczyk said. “To get an automatic bid to the WNIT is a huge occurrence.”
In the Missouri Valley Tournament, Drake entered as the second seed and faced the seventh seed Evansville. Despite their ranking, Drake struggled as the minutes wound down.
The Bulldogs turned the ball over 17 times in the first half and 29 times throughout the entire game, leading to 29 Evansville points. Evansville also set a school tournament record by hitting 17 three pointers on 38 attempts, including six from senior guard Khristian Hart, who put up a season high 29 points to pace the Aces in their 84-79 victory.
“This was a tough one for us, but you have to give a lot of credit to Evansville,” Baranczyk said. “They had a ton of energy, especially when we went into that overtime period. They’re a good three-point shooting team, they really are. We gave them some open shots, and they hit those open shots.”
Drake was led by freshmen Becca Jonas and Maddy Dean who each had 21 points on a combined 16-28 shooting. Jonas also chipped in a game-high 15 rebounds while also holding down the paint on defense, which is what forced Evansville to perform from beyond the arc. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, those threes kept falling.
Down by three points at halftime, Drake came back, tying the game near the end of regulation. Lizzy Wendell narrowly missed a contested layup, leaving the score tied at 65 at the end of the second half.
In overtime, the teams traded baskets back-and-forth for a stretch but before a double foul, including a flagrant foul on Dean, gave Evansville the momentum needed to pull away and secure the victory.
The loss eliminated Drake from NCAA Tournament contention, but they were still invited to the WNIT for the first time since the 2011-2012 season. The
Bulldogs faced off with Eastern Michigan at the Knapp Center in the first round of the tournament.
“It was awesome to get one last chance to play on our home court,” senior Carly Grenfell said. “There’s so much joy, the future is so bright here.”
The following Friday, the team returned to the Knapp Center to face the Eastern Michigan Eagles in the first round of the WNIT.
Despite strong performances from sophomores Caitlin Ingle and Wendell, the Bulldogs fell 80-70 to end their season.
Ingle scored 17 points and dished out five assists in the effort, while Wendell scored 19 and also dished out five assists. Dean added 12 points and 12 rebounds.
“It was a tough loss, but we’re ready to get better and go farther next year and do bigger and better things,” Wendell said.
Drake struggled throughout the first half, getting down by as much as 13, but stormed back as the game went on, tying the game early in the second half on a layup by Grenfell in her final Drake game.
Each team then proceeded to go on a set of runs, but Eastern Michigan pulled away late.
Drake pulled to within three with 3:43 left on the clock, but never managed to get over the hump as the Eagle hit their free throws and brought the Bulldogs’ season to its end.
The Bulldogs finished their season with a record of 20-11, their best finish since 2007-2008 and played in the WNIT for the first time since the 2011-2012 season. Despite losing seniors Grenfell, Cara Lutes, Liza Heap and Bry Mueller, Drake looks to be one of the favorites in the Missouri Valley next season with four returning starters.