Women’s hoops fall at NCAA’s
After advancing past the first round, the UW-Eau Claire women’s basketball team nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the Div. III NCAA tournament on Saturday in Chicago.
The Blugolds won their first game on Friday against Simpson College (Iowa) 69-61. Senior center Ellen Plendl led the team with a game-high 21 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks.
Sophomore center Emily Miller said the win against a solid opponent was a nice way for the team to start the tournament.
“It was a good win for us, to get our foot in the door and continue on our path, in our journey this season,” Miller said.
Eau Claire relied on its size advantage from the 6’5” Plendl throughout the game, as they have all season. The Blugolds out-rebounded Simpson 51-40, and had 32 points in the paint to Simpson’s 12.
In the team’s second round matchup on Saturday, they went up against the no. 2 ranked University of Chicago, who came into the game with a 26-0 record.
Senior Laura Olson said the team knew they were facing a strong opponent in the second round but that they still had confidence.
“We went into the game without being intimidated at all by their record, just knowing that we matched up really well with them,” Olson said.
The Blugolds faced a 10-point deficit at half time but didn’t roll over against their tough opponent and eventually tied the game at 44 with six and half minutes left to play.
Eau Claire even grabbed a brief 50-49 lead with just under two minutes remaining on a layup from Plendl.
It didn’t last long, however, as Chicago answered with a basket of their own and made free throws down the stretch to seal a 56-52 victory over the Blugolds.
The team was again led by Plendl, who had a game-high 23 points, while also chipping in 12 rebounds and a block.
Olson said one of the challenges involved with playing a team of Chicago’s caliber was that they were playing games on consecutive days.
“It’s hard to play back to backs, your body needs rest,” Olson said. “But Chicago had to play back to backs, so they were in the same position.”
After the second round loss the team’s record fell to 21-7 overall on the year.
Eau Claire will graduate five seniors this off-season, including twin towers Plendl and senior forward Callie Halama, who were first and second on the team in scoring with more than 13 points per game.
Miller said she has big shoes to fill next year as the most experienced returning post player.
“I have to remind myself that what they did, and how they improved me as a whole person, not just as a basketball player,” Miller said. “It’s definitely going to be different not having those two on the court.”