The clock has struck midnight for the Blue Streaks. Mount Union ended JCU’s Ohio Athletic Conference title hopes, handing the Blue and Gold an 82-63 loss in the quarterfinal round of the OAC Tournament on Tuesday.
The regular season ended for JCU women’s team on Saturday, with a 71-61 defeat to Marietta. The Blue and Gold brought a four-game losing streak into Monday’s rematch with the Pioneers. But JCU played with an aggressiveness seldom seen before, capturing a 60-53 victory.
In defense of JCU’s loss to Mount Union, the odds were stacked against the Blue Streaks heading into the quarterfinal matchup. Three games in four days is a tough stretch for any basketball team on any level, especially considering that JCU head coach Kristie Maravalli prefers to utilize a short bench.
Under the circumstances, the Blue and Gold did well. The team hung with hot-shooting Mount Union in the first half on Tuesday. Though the Raiders rushed out a 25-12 lead, the Blue Streaks climbed back into the game, narrowing the deficit to seven heading into halftime.
JCU sprinted out of the gate in the second half, slimming the gap to as little as two with 14 minutes remaining in the contest. But the wheels came off soon after. The home team rolled to a 20-3 run as JCU’s adrenaline wore off, squashing the Blue and Gold’s hopes of moving on to a semifinal matchup with Otterbein.
Agressiveness was what allowed JCU to move on to the second round. The Blue Streaks played with confidence and determination from the tip-off to the final buzzer in the first round of the OAC Tournament on Monday.
The Blue and Gold played a press defense from the get-go and continued the tactic as the game wore on. The strategy certainly paid off, as the visiting Pioneers turned the ball over 16 times and JCU recorded nine steals. Switzler had four of them, as the sophomore played with a passion on defense. She was a major part of the Blue and Gold’s victory.
The Blue Streaks held a nine-point lead heading into the half, but Marietta narrowed the lead to three with 1:10 remaining. But JCU would not be denied a win. Switzler drove the lane decisively and put in a layup from the low post to give the Blue Streaks a five point lead with 32 seconds left, effectively icing the game.
Though the Blue and Gold only shot 32 percent from the field, three Blue Streaks managed to reach double figures. Switzler added 10, Day contributed 16 (and led the team from three-point range, shooting four of six) and Spahar notched a double-double with 19 points and 15 rebounds.
After the Blue and Gold’s loss to Marietta two days previous to Monday’s showdown, the Pioneers looked to have JCU’s number. Marietta outrebounded JCU by a wide margin of 36 to 21 and shot 49 percent from the field on Saturday, a dangerous combination that led to Marietta’s 71-61 victory. Though JCU was also outrebounded on Monday, Marietta shot much worse in that contest, especially in the paint.
Following Tuesday’s tough loss, it’s time to hit the restart button for the Blue Streaks. The Blue and Gold have a ton of talent on this roster and graduate no seniors over the offseason. Junior forward Missy Spahar established herself as one of the best forwards in the OAC, in terms of both scoring and rebounding. She consistently hit double figures in points and board, helping make JCU a serious contender. Fellow junior Allie Lustig also had a stellar season. The point guard dished out more assists than anyone in the conference and was a critical part of the offense this season. Sophomore Beth Switzler became a major scorer in the offense, in part thanks to play on the offensive boards. The forward/guard fought for rebounds and played with passion on both ends of the court. Junior Hilary Liwosz also played an increased role in the offense as the season progressed. Her willingness to shoot when given room proved to be an asset.
Though she didn’t always start, sophomore Meghan Weber was a major presence in the post for much of the season. When her number was called, the forward could be counted on to snag rebounds and put up points. Another sophomore who made an impact this season was Emily Taylor. She played with determination when coming off the bench.
A number of freshmen also displayed promise this year. Erin Mog showed flashes of brilliance before suffering a season-ending injury seven games into the year. Elissa Day nailed three-pointers with ease, becoming a major threat from behind the arc.
The downfall for this team was lack of experience. Not having a senior on this year’s team will be a blessing next year, but it was a curse this season. The squad lacked consistency and killer instinct that develops over time.
“Everyone definitely improved this year,” Spahar said on Tuesday. “This season had some ups and downs and unfortunately it had to come to and end against a great team. It’s just exciting that we will all be back next year and we will definitely be ready for anything.”
Rarely does a team return its whole roster. The Blue Streaks are blessed to be in that scenario, and have a wealth of talent returning for next season. Given another offseason to develop, this JCU team could be an OAC contender in the 2013-2014 season.