MILWAUKEE, Wis. – Since the start of the new year, the Olivet Nazarene University women’s basketball team has posted a 13-3 record, including wins over three teams ranked in the top-25 and their only losses coming at the hands of Nos. 9, 15 and 18. So, the Tigers saw their number four seed in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament as more a challenge than an obstacle. ONU stepped up to the challenge, coming away with a 79-76 win and a new plaque for the trophy case.
After a decisive win over St. Ambrose (Iowa) in the opening round and an upset of No. 13 St. Francis (Ill.) in the semifinals, the Tigers headed north to take on No. 17 Cardinal Stritch (Wis.) for the title game with the winner earning an automatic bid to the NAIA National Tournament. In their earlier meetings this season, the two teams had each won on their home courts, most recently the Tigers upsetting then No. 19 Stritch.
In front of a packed house at the CSU Fieldhouse, game three of the matchup proved to be an intense one from the opening tip. The Tigers jumped out to an early lead which extended to 16 points at the end of the opening quarter. Behind the hot hand of Kara Shimko, however, the Wolves slowly started chipping away at the ONU lead. By the half, the Tigers went to the locker room up just 40-35.
Less than four minutes into the second half, the Wolves had caught up, tying the game at 42-42, taking their first lead of the game less than a minute later. ONU wouldn’t regain the lead until the opening of the fourth quarter, but would see any advantage quickly disappear as the Wolves continued to claw their way back, tying the game on four separate occasions. An untimely Stritch foul with just eight seconds left was enough to put the Tigers up for good.
ONU was led by Zanna Myers’ season-high 23 points, connecting on 7-of-12 from the field and 6-of-11 from behind the three-point line. Jess Learned added 20 points and five rebounds, while Kayla Ross tied her career-high, dishing out dished out a 13 assists. Ross also added a team-high seven rebounds and nine points. Sammy Stejskal added 17 points to the winning effort.
Stritch was led by a career night from Shimko who shot an astounding 8-of-10 from behind the arc for 24 points. Three other Wolves recorded double-digits, including 22 from Kelly Schrauth, 11 from Timeah Stotts and 10 from Sam Kirk.
ONU will advance to the NAIA National Tournament in Sioux City, Iowa by virtue of an automatic bid by winning the conference tournament. Stritch will wait to see if they earn an at-large bid based on their national ranking and season record.