They wanted absolutely no part of the “co-champion” stuff their predecessors were saddled with after winning a Kansas Conference women’s basketball title.
The 2019-20 Kansas Wesleyan team etched its name in the record book with a victory at Ottawa on Wednesday, and became a special entity in university lore by winning the program’s first outright championship with a 63-55 victory over Oklahoma Wesleyan on Saturday night in Mabee Arena.
KWU shared the title with other teams three previous times before ascending to the top alone in a momentous regular-season finale and Senior Night.
“It’s awesome, a great feeling,” said guard Courtney Heinen (SR/Axtell, Kan.), one of the four seniors on the roster. “In high school I wasn’t able to get a championship, so it’s great to get it now.”
The No. 15-ranked Coyotes improved to 25-5, 21-3 in the KCAC, and finished one game ahead of No. 20 Sterling. They earned a bid to next month’s NAIA Division II National Championship with the victory Wednesday, and enter next week’s KCAC Tournament as the top seed where they’ll play OKWU, the eighth seed, again in the quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Mabee Arena.
“It feels so great,” KWU Coach Ryan Showman said, brushing pieces of Silly String off from a locker room celebration. “I’m so proud of these girls. Everything we’ve gone through this season – the highs, the lows, the grind of a 24-game (conference) season – to go and win it outright is such a tribute to them and our coaching staff.”
Saturday’s conquest was far from easy, though.
KWU trailed 29-26 at halftime, fell behind by six in the third quarter and was down 46-45 with just over 9 minutes left.
As they’ve done most of the season, though, the Coyotes gained their stride and did so in impressive fashion.
A 6-0 surge gave them a 50-46 lead with 8 minutes left and after an OKWU basket they scored 10 consecutive points for a 60-48 lead with just over 3 minutes remaining.
OKWU got within 61-55 with 53 seconds left, but two Kelcey Hinz (SO/Whitewater, Kan.) free throws and two missed Eagles’ shots ended it.
“We kept our composure, we knew what was on the line and we knew what we wanted,” Heinen said. “We kept our composure, stayed calm and finished it out right.”
The Coyotes appeared to suffer from some jitters early on, committing nine turnovers the first quarter.
“At half Showman came in and yelled at us, we got our heads right and came out actually started playing like we know how to play,” said Heinen, who was recognized on Senior Night along with Haleigh Bradford (SR/Schertz, Texas), Jayme Sloan (SR/Bennington, Kan.), Kayla Vallin (SR/Aurora, Colo.) and manager McKenzee Hall. “We weren’t hitting shots and not executing on offense and after half it really came together.”
“We knew the game’s 40 minutes long and knew we’d settle in at some point,” Showman said. “It took until the third quarter, but we settled in.”
KWU shot just 34.5 percent for the game (20 of 58) and had 15 turnovers. But the Coyotes won the rebounding battle 50-36, forced 13 turnovers and limited OKWU (15-14, 11-13) to 33.3 percent shooting (21 of 63).
“I thought defensively we were absolutely lights out that second half,” Showman said. “We communicated better, we rotated a little quicker and that urgency was there – the urgency to finish the game and finish what we started.
“If we can get stops we’re going to have enough possessions and we’re good enough we’re going to make some baskets and that’s what happened.”
Heinen scored 13 of her 15 points the second half while Hinz tallied nine of her 15 the final 20 minutes. Amanda Hill (JR/Rossville, Kan.) added 12 points, Hinz grabbed 13 rebounds for 13th double-double of the season and Heinen had eight rebounds, five assists and two steals.
Ashley Cook led OKWU with 14 points and Makayla Watkins had 12.
The same two teams will go at it again Wednesday with much more on the line.
“We’ve got to be prepared,” Heinen said. “We know they’re shooters, we know what they’re coming out to do, so we have to be prepared and I think we will be.”