Women’s basketball defeats reigning NCAA Division III champs
The women’s basketball team capped off one of its most successful seasons in recent years by defeating the defending NCAA Division III national champions in the first round of the tournament before bowing out in the second round and ending the year with a 23-6 record.
Transy took on Howard Payne University, reigning Division III champs, in regional play hosted by Washington University in St. Louis. Led by sophomore forward Holly Milburn, who had 18 points and 12 rebounds, the Pioneers overcame an early first-half deficit to win by 65-52.
Transy met Washington University on the Bears’ home court in a second round game, and the host team proved too strong for the Pioneers in an 83-57 win. Washington, playing in a regional final game for the 12th straight year and in the NCAA tourney for the 20th year in a row, went on to finish as national runner-up.
“We played our best game of the season against Howard Payne,” said Transy head coach Greg Todd, who has taken the Pioneers to the NCAA tournament in two of his three seasons at the helm. “I was very proud that we were playing our best basketball at the end of the year and in the tournament.”
The Pioneers’ outstanding year included a 14-2 record in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, good for the regular season title. The Pioneers swept their last 12 conference games, including a 51-33 win at Anderson University that clinched the crown.
Transy downed Franklin College 72-65 in the semifinals of the HCAC tourney, which the Pioneers hosted. The University also hosted the men’s conference tourney, the first time one school has been the site of both women’s and men’s events.
In the finals, sophomore guard Olivia Akridge led the way against Hanover College with 19 points as the Pioneers won 79-69 to claim the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Milburn added 16 points and junior guard Brittany Henderlight, named Most Valuable Player of the tournament, had 15.
Todd, named Coach of the Year in the HCAC, characterized his team as having great confidence and patience, which served them well in games where they fell behind early.
“At the 10-minute mark of the second half, if we were tied or even down a basket or two, we felt like we were deeper than most of the teams in our conference and that our speed and pressure would wear them down,” Todd said. “This was a team that did not get rattled. We always felt we would finish a game out strong.”
Senior leadership from guards Jackie Distler and Kelsey McCarty, along with reserve guard Beth Barr, was a key for the Pioneers. Distler had an outstanding year as she led the team in scoring at 15 points a game, made field goals (164), and rebounding (6.2 per game) on her way to Player of the Year honors in the HCAC. McCarty averaged 10.3 points a game, fourth best on the team, and led the Pioneers in free throw shooting at 86 percent.
Milburn finished as the team’s third leading scorer at 11.2 points per game and second leading rebounder with 5.9 a game. Akridge was the team’s best field goal shooter at 47.8 percent and fifth leading scorer with 9.9 per contest.