Sioux City, Iowa – The Alice Lloyd College Lady Eagles, under the guidance of head coach John Mills, began their quest for a national championship on Wednesday March 6th, in Sioux City, Iowa. However, the ladies from Caney Creek had the unenviable task of facing the nation’s 2nd ranked squad, the Southeastern University Fire from Florida, in the first round of the NAIA DII National Tournament. The Lady Eagles fought valiantly for three quarters before the Lady Fire demonstrated why they hold such a lofty ranking, as they broke away late to win, 89-57.
The contest could not have started any better for the Kentucky ladies. Two quick buckets on jumpers by junior forward Jayla Spurlock and senior guard Courtney Vasquez gave their squad a 4-0 advantage. Later, when sophomore guard Haley Hall drilled her second consecutive trifecta at 5:55, the Lady Eagles led by seven, 13-6.
SU would turn to leading scorer Elsa Paulsson-Glanntz to turn the tide and the big forward would pump in 9 points in the stanza.
However, the plucky Caney Creek squad refused to break and clung to their lead. When junior guard Katie Moore banked in a 30 foot bomb at the buzzer, Alice Lloyd led after ten minutes, 21-19.
In the second stanza, the ladies from Caney Creek opened with buckets from Moore and Hall, and still led 27-23 with 7:20 remaining. The crowd was definitely rooting for the underdogs.
At this point, the squad from the Sunshine State showed why they had such a lofty ranking. Over the next five minutes, relying on the powerful inside play of 6’6 West Virginia University transfer Marlena Schmidt, the Fire ran off a crucial 15-2 burst to leap ahead, 38-29 with 1:42 left in the half.
Southeastern would enter the dressing room at intermission nursing a 41-34 lead.
In the third quarter, the Lady Eagles would refuse to go away, as they were sparked by 9 big points from Hall. The powerful Florida squad simply could not shake the determined squad from Eastern Kentucky.
A late bucket by the Fire put them ahead 58-48 entering the final ten minutes. The vast majority in attendance hoped the Lady Eagles could possibly pull off the major upset.
Unfortunately, with one period remaining, the Lady Fire finally revealed why they are a serious contender for the national championship.
Southeastern’s incredible size and championship-level play finally wore down Alice Lloyd as they relentlessly attacked on the inside, and roared off a 13-0 run to open the stanza. Suddenly, with 6:40 remaining, the score read 71-48.
The victors ended up outscoring the Lady Eagles 31-9, and held ALC to just three field goals in the final 10 minutes to finally prevail against their worthy opponents.
For ALC (20-10), they were led in scoring by Hall who played an exceptional game. The Florida squad was unable to contain her the entire night as she rammed in a game-high 26 points on 9-16 field goals (6-9 3FG) and 2-2 free throws. She also registered the club’s only steal of the game. However, she was the only player to reach double figures.
Moore finished with 9 points, and led the team with 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Vasquez finished her career with 8 points while sophomore center Alexandria Clifton added 6 points.
In her final game, senior center Emilie Harrell contributed 4 points and 4 rebounds while Spurlock and sophomore guard Ali May each chipped in with 2 points apiece.
Overall, Alice Lloyd had trouble shooting against the Lady Fire’s massive height advantage and strength, as they connected on only 35.6% (21-59) from the floor, including 34.5% (10-29) from long range. They also sank just 62.5% (5-8) from the charity line. They snagged 28 rebounds and dished out 11 assists, but recorded a season-low 1 steal.
Coach Mills was well aware of the unenviable task his gutty squad would be facing. “The matchup with Southeastern was a huge challenge, but I was excited because I felt it would be a great test for us to see if we could hold our own on defense and also execute our offensive sets against their massive size. However, in a critical stretch in the second quarter, we gave them a 15-2 run. To our credit, we fought back and were still only down 10 entering the final period.”
The veteran coach added, “In the last quarter, we hurt ourselves by missing a few good shots and allowing them to quickly capitalize. From that point, we finally wore down. They are so tough to guard as their lineup averages over 6’1. They have been ranked #1 or #2 in the nation for the past three years, and it is no mystery why this is the case. SF has one of the top teams in the nation, and with their experience, they were able to take advantage of this with great success.”
Southeastern (28-2), was led by Schmidt with her 20 point, 14 rebound double-double.
Her squad showed their incredible balance as 6’1 University of Kentucky/University of Cincinnati transfer Makenzie Cann, and 6’2 University of Tampa transfer Emma Karamovic added 17 and 14 points respectively, while the 6’0 Paulsson-Glanntz and 5’10 Reagan Linster also hit double figures, with 13 and 11 points apiece.
The Fire sank 47.8% (33-69) for the game and finished 30% (6-20) from deep. They were also a solid 85% (17-20) from the foul line. They dominated the glass with 48 boards and added 15 assists and 12 big steals.
The Lady Eagles have no reason to drag their heads as they had an incredible year, becoming the second club in school history to advance to the women’s National Tournament with their back-to-back run. They also finished as the Champions of the River States Conference Western Division for the second straight season.
“The 2018-19 season is one that has been highly successful due to this fine group of ladies,” said Coach Mills. “We have had good teams in the past who have been close to reaching the nationals, but were unable to achieve that dream. This club was able to bust through the door and accomplish something that has alluded our program, and they have now achieved this twice.”
The Lady Eagles lose two players in Harrell and Vasquez, but they return everyone else and the young players have gained more championship-level experience this season. Coach Mills will look to bring in some quality recruits to go with his excellent returning players and hopes to make a third-straight trip to Sioux City next season.