Women’s basketball fights hard but falls short

Rory MacCallum, Contributing Writer

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The Crusaders’ leading scorer, sophomore forward Michelle DeCoud, takes a shot during the Schreiner game. University of Dallas Photo.

It was not the most beautiful season for the University of Dallas women’s basketball team. The record was not pretty and neither were the stats. At times, the play on the court looked downright ugly, but this team fought every step of the way.

Head coach Greta Grothe was brought in to fill the vacant head coaching position, becoming the 14th head coach of the program. This was Grothe’s first job as a head coach, who spent the previous eight as an assistant.

The Crusaders entered their road matchup with the Austin College Kangaroos on Saturday knowing this would be their last game. They had already been eliminated from postseason play, so the only thing they would have to play for was pride.

On the flip side, Austin College has had a heck of a season. They finished their regular season with an 18-7 record, an 11-3 conference record and a tie with Trinity University at the top of the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) standings. They are also ranked eighth in the NCAA Division III South Region. When these two teams met in the Maher Athletic Center at the beginning of January, the ’Roos ran the Crusaders out of the gym, winning 40-80.

It was different this time around, as Dallas pushed Austin College to overtime before ultimately falling by a 61-64 margin. The Crusaders jumped out to a 12-10 lead at the end of the first quarter, but fell behind 23-25 at halftime. Austin pushed their lead to eight at the end of the third quarter, but the Crusaders refused to fold.

Dallas began the fourth quarter on an 11-2 run, with nine of those points coming from sophomore forward Michelle DeCoud — the Crusaders’ leading scorer of the night. DeCoud finished the game with a career-high 28 points and 16 rebounds, one of which came on an offensive put-back that gave Dallas a four-point lead with 2:27 remaining in the game. But the ’Roos would battle back and ultimately send the game into overtime.

Junior forward Seana Stoia scored the first two points of the extra period, but Austin hit two three-pointers to take a lead they would not relinquish, causing the Crusaders to fall for the final time this season.

“We battled really well,” Grothe said. “I thought that was the first game that we played a full game and not just the first or second half.”

Members of the team were proud of the way they had fought back in a seemingly meaningless game.

“We fought hard … as a team and never gave up,” DeCoud said. “Nobody expected us to fight back like we did.”

After dropping their first three games of the season, the Crusaders would go on to win three of the next four and carried a 3-5 record into conference play. During this time, the Crusaders got a boost with the return of DeCoud and junior guard Nerissa Periola, who both spent the fall semester studying in Rome.

DeCoud and Stoia formed a powerful duo inside. Stoia ended up leading the team in both scoring and rebounding.

The Crusaders would drop their first three conference contests to Austin, Texas Lutheran University and Southwestern University, and all three losses came in blowout fashion. They would turn it around substantially however, as they beat Colorado College and Centenary College of Louisiana in their following conference games by 23 and 20 points, respectively. DeCoud and Stoia were particularly impressive in the Centenary game, as Stoia exploded for 27 points and seven rebounds while DeCoud added 19 points and 12 rebounds of her own.

The following weekend, the Crusaders’ season took a turn for the worst. They lost to Trinity at home by 46 points, and junior guard Sammi Tso suffered a season-ending knee injury during the contest. The season hung in the balance at that point, as the Crusaders sported a 6-9 record overall, with a 2-4 conference record. They would bounce back with a dramatic win over Schreiner University the following night and then nearly upset Trinity on the road. However, Dallas would finish the season on an eight-game losing streak.

When examining the season as a whole, the road games at Austin and Trinity are particularly admirable. Despite being overmatched and previously having lost by huge margins, Dallas nearly pulled off upsets against top-tier Division III teams.

When looking ahead to next season, there is a lot to be optimistic about, as Dallas does not have a single senior on their roster. The team will have to lean on their inside game, and will have to improve their turnover rate. The team averaged over 20 turnovers per game.

“The biggest thing we need to improve on for next year is taking care of the ball,” Grothe said. “I think that starts with ball handling, from the point guard all the way to the post players. But I think our formula of rebounding and playing tough will carry over into next year.”

Despite a disappointing season, everyone remains optimistic about the 2016-17 campaign.

“With some improvements over the summer we will come back strong next season and I look forward to it,” DeCoud said.

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