Now that it has this first-place thing down, the Dominican University women’s basketball team can work on its celebrating.
The Stars captured their first Northern Athletics Conference South Division title by turning back host Concordia University 78-67 Thursday night at Geiseman Gymnasium in River Forest.
“It’s unchartered waters for us, so it’s been a good ride,” Dominican coach Michael Lane said. “First place was beyond our expectations.”
It marks the first worst-to-first turnaround for a women’s basketball team in NAC history. Last season, Dominican (18-4, 13-2) finished 9-16 overall and 4-14 in conference.
Returning players such as juniors Sarah Budz and Danielle Miller improved, junior Becky Christofferson arrived on campus, junior Kayla Blom came back healthy, and freshmen Magdalena Kaminska, Katie Budz and Ashley Oliver were added to the mix.
The result has been a winning combination.
“Our chemistry is so good, on and off the court,” Christofferson said. “The big thing is we play as a team so great.”
Christofferson netted a team-high 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead Dominican in the clincher. Kaminska added 18 points before fouling out, while Oliver provided a spark off the bench with 15 points.
Concordia (8-14, 4-11), powered by scoring machine Marche Smith, made its neighborhood rival earn the victory.
The score was tied at 49 before Blom’s three-pointer put Dominican ahead with 10:41 remaining. The Stars protected the lead the rest of the way, but it wasn’t until a 10-0 run extended their advantage to 69-56 with 5:11 left that they could breathe easier. Five different players scored in the spree.
Such teamwork was needed to overcome Smith, who scored in all sorts of ways en route to pouring in a game-high 31 points, 23 coming in the second half. The 5-foot-7 senior guard is the conference’s all-time leading scorer with 1,832 points.
“She’s a great player,” Christofferson said. “We thought we played good defense on her and she still had 31 points.”
“She’s unbelievable,” Concordia coach Joshua Steffen said of Smith. “She’s the best player in our conference and one of the five best players in Division III.”
Krystyna Rickett and Claire Mackey chipped in 11 and 10 points, respectively, for the Cougars.
“They’re on their homecourt and (with us) beating them last time, we knew that they would come at us hard, but we fought hard, too,” Christofferson said.
“It was a good team effort,” said Lane, who was speaking about the game, but could just as well have been talking about the whole surprising season.
“We had never made a conference tournament so that was our main goal,” Lane said. “Then, once we had a (good) start, we started to dream a little bit bigger and the girls decided they wanted to win the division, and we did that tonight. It’s just a totally new thing for our program. It’s exciting.”
The bad news for the rest of the NAC? The newly-crowned division champs don’t have a senior on their roster.