Sometimes a historic athletic achievement cannot be properly celebrated due to the circumstances surrounding it.
While most headlines may show that the John Carroll University women’s basketball team is the second seed in the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament, one fact is undeniable:
For the first time in 44 years, they are champions.
Fueled by a 27-1 second half run, the Blue Streaks routed the Marietta College Pioneers in the regular season finale, 88-65, at home on Saturday.
The team finished tied with Baldwin Wallace University at the top of the OAC standings with a 15-3 record. Due to the Yellow Jackets’ two head-to-head wins over JCU, they clinched the first overall seed.
The road was rocky for the Blue Streaks in the early minutes against Marietta. The low-scoring first half was hallmarked by sloppy play by both squads.
Marietta found some footing with 9:40 left in the first, when a Mackenzie Kiser layup gave them a 15-14 lead. That began an 9-0 Pioneers run over the next two minutes that put the Blue Streaks in a deep 22-14 hole.
A technical foul assessed to the Blue Streaks at 5:46 sucked the air out of the Tony DeCarlo Varsity Center. It did nothing but fuel JCU for the rest of the first half.
Seconds later, the Blue Streaks would fall behind by eight, but roared back in the closing seconds to cut the gap to a 36-32 margin at intermission.
Foul trouble plagued the Blue Streaks in the first half. Senior Missy Spahar had three fouls while sophomore Daniella Rice, freshman Katlyn Spahar and junior Meghan Weber each racked up two.
Missy Spahar struggled from the field in the first half, hitting only two of her nine shots for just eight points in 16 minutes.
The second half was all positives for the Blue Streaks. Junior Beth Switzler was a player possessed in the first few minutes, recording four points, two rebounds and a steal.
Heather Booth would then give Marietta a 42-40 lead with 15:10 left. It would be their final lead.
The Pioneers would not score for another five minutes. The Blue Streaks went on a 16-0 run during that period, and went on a 9-1 run following a Sierra Sigman free throw with 10:04 left.
Late in the game, it became clear that Baldwin Wallace was pulling away from Muskingum, so the Blue Streaks were locked in to the second seed for the tournament.
With the game out of reach in University Heights, the championship was all but locked up as well.
Only one task was unfinished, and Missy Spahar’s teammates were ready to help her achieve it. With 3:19 remaining, Spahar hit a jumper that put her above Lee Jennings for first on the JCU career scoring chart.
“I wasn’t shooting well in the first half, so I had no idea I was close,” Spahar said. “I can’t describe the feeling because it was so surreal in the moment.”
The Spahar sisters combined for 42 points, 15 rebounds, six steals and four assists.
Switzler contributed 17 points and 10 rebounds, including a stellar 7-of-8 from the free-throw line.
The Blue Streaks shot 47.4 percent from the floor in the second half after an abysmal 30.6 percent in the first.
When the final horn sounded, the Blue Streaks had reason to celebrate as their first conference championship was official.
Outside of the two losses to Baldwin Wallace and one close fall to Ohio Northern, JCU put together a memorable year.
The team’s 21-3 overall record and 15-3 mark in the OAC both stand as school records. JCU went 9-2 at home, its best record since a 10-3 clip in 1993-94.
JCU’s championship comes after a series of close calls in the early 1990s, including third-place finishes in 1993 and 1994.
“When I came here, I never imagined that we would raise a banner,” said Spahar. “It would be amazing to continue this run and a berth in the NCAA [tournament] would be the icing on the cake.”
The Blue Streaks play Ohio Northern University in the OAC Semifinals tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the DeCarlo Center after going 1-1 against ONU in the regular season.
If the team wins tonight and on Saturday night in the OAC Championship, they would earn an automatic bid to the 2014 NCAA Tournament for the first time.