The John Carroll University women’s basketball season came to an end Saturday at the hands of the University of Mount Union, but not to be lost in the disappointing finish is the magical run that took them all the way to the Ohio Athletic Conference Championship game – the first team in program history to make it all the way to the title game. Unfortunately, the Blue Streaks couldn’t overcome a first half deficit to capture the first conference championship in school history.
The Blue Streaks ended the first half down 43-34 but started the second half with strong defense and hot shooting. With 11:44 left on the clock, senior Lee Jennings, a first team All-OAC selection, knocked down a three-pointer to give the Blue Streaks a 58-57 lead.
JCU increased their lead when freshman Hilary Liwosz connected on a pair of free throws to give JCU a four point lead. However, the top-seeded Purple Raiders answered by going on an 11-0 run to reclaim the lead at 74-67 with 6:14 remaining in the game.
Showing the resilience that got them to this point, the Blue Streaks responded with a 9-2 run of their own, capped off by a jumper from freshman Missy Spahar, that tied the game at 76 with four minutes remaining.
Ultimately, the Purple Raiders were just too much. They went on a 16-8 run in the final four minutes to escape with a 92-84 win. Mount Union improved to 25-3 overall and earned the OAC’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. JCU ended the season with a 16-12 record.
Jennings led all scorers with 39 points on 14 of 24 shooting from the field. Strong performances were turned in by Spahar who had 20 points and junior Emilee Ritchie who chipped in 19.
“I think after the initial sadness that we all felt after losing, we realized that the only emotion we could feel is pride,” said junior Emily Day. “I don’t think anyone was expecting us to be the team facing Mount Union in that final game. We were proud of ourselves for proving everyone else wrong and showing that determination and hard work can get you far.”
While the season ended on a bitter note, it was a season filled with many accomplishments.
This year’s team was the first since 1994 to make to the semifinals of the conference tournament. After earning the seventh seed, the Blue Streaks had to get past second-seeded Baldwin-Wallace College to reach the semifinals.
JCU then won a thriller, 71-70, over third-seeded Ohio Northern University in the semifinal round. The Blue Streaks faced an eight-point deficit with five minutes left to play but used back-to-back three-pointers from freshman Allie Lustig and Ritchie to tie the game.
With 51 seconds left, Jennings made two free throws to give the Blue Streaks a 71-70 victory and an appearance in the conference title game.
The Blue Streaks will lose Jennings and her classmate Katie Knox to graduation.
Knox, a post who started 26 games in her final season, was quick to praise Jennings, her teammate of four years.
“The whole team really came together in the final stretch of the season and played inspired in our three playoff games, but I don’t think anyone wanted the title more than Lee. She has been such an amazing teammate over the past four years that I wanted to do whatever I could to help her hang the program’s first banner in the Tony DeCarlo Varsity Center,” said Knox.
While saying goodbye is hard, the Blue Streaks are in good hands for the 2011-12 season. JCU will return three starters from this year’s team in Lustig, Ritchie and Spahar.
“I think now that we have gotten a taste of what a championship run feels like, we have even more of a desire to win the whole thing next year,” said Day. “We will have some huge shoes to fill with Lee Jennings and Katie Knox leaving, but the freshman were really impressive this year and it will be great to have them returning next year as more experienced players.”