By Bryn Younger, Staff Writer
Students crammed in so tight seats were impossible to find. Cheering so loud a fan could not hear the referee’s whistle. Tension so high it kept everyone on edge. This was the scene at the women’s TranSouth championship basketball game Monday in the Fred DeLay Gymnasium, in the team’s 55-47 victory against the Freed-Hardeman Lady Lions.
After the team beat Bethel University Friday in the semifinals, the Lady Bulldogs moved on to the championship game against Freed-Hardeman University.
Union started strong, putting up a 10-2 run. The Lady Bulldogs only allowed the Lady Lions one lead in the first half. Union held onto a comfortable lead, but Freed-Hardeman closed the gap near the end of the half. Union still held on to the lead going into the half, up 27-21.
The Lady Lions began the second half with a burst of momentum. A 9-0 run gave Freed-Hardeman a 30-27 lead over the Lady Bulldogs.
A back-and-forth second half kept the game interesting. In the second half, the Lady Lions and Lady Bulldogs exchanged five lead changes and knotted up the game four times. A 12-0 run changed the game and put Union back in control. The Lady Bulldogs clinched the championship with a final score of 55-47.
“I’m grateful we had the opportunity to play in this atmosphere,” said Mark Campbell, head coach of the women’s basketball team.
Lavanda Ross, senior social work major, led the team in scoring, reaching her career high with 30 points for the game. She was followed by freshman Amy Philamlee with eight points and Astrid Huttemann, freshman business management major, with a pair of three-pointers.
This game, as well as other games this season, also allowed the team to prepare for what it is like to go up against difficult teams. Ross said the tough game against Freed-Hardeman allowed for them to practice their defensive skills.
This win can also be attributed to hard work and a lot of practice. Campbell said the team recently had its 101st practice of the season, which is unusual for a college team.
As soon as the game ended, representatives announced awards. Ross was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“Hard work paid off all season,” Ross said. “I feel like I wouldn’t have gotten the award if not for my team.”
Shelby Ashcraft, sophomore nursing major, was named to the TranSouth All-Tournament Team, along with Ross.
The women will move on to the next round, the NAIA national tournament, which begins March 14 in Frankfurt, Ky., and continues until March 20.
“We’re going to prepare to play for all five games,” Campbell said. “This is what we’ve been preparing to build up to for this time of year.”
Since the team would have made it into the NAIA tournament with or without the championship win, the benefit of winning the Freed-Hardeman game is the boost in confidence it gives the women. In past years, this game has served as a learning experience.
“We’ve lost (the championship) game two years and went on to win the national championship,” Campbell said. “Either we learn from it or gain confidence from it. Even though we’re young, it’s a pretty mature team.”
Union made its way to the NAIA championship game the past three years. Of the three, Union took two titles home. This will be their last opportunity to win an NAIA championship title before moving to the NCAA Division II.