Women’s basketball set for conference tourney after rocky regular season


Brianna Parsons

Halle Busse drives in for a layup against a University of Sioux Falls defender.

Austin Svehla, Reporter

ar head coach Brent Pollari’s goal for his team was to focus on how they can approach each day with a mindset of improving in each aspect of the game. He didn’t specify his expectations as far as record or placement in the standings. Now, Pollari’s squad is bracing for the NSIC Tournament, earning the sixth seed in the South Division after a 14-14 regular season (9-13 NSIC).

“We’re not a super deep team, but we play really hard,” Pollari said. “Our girls are very impressive. We’ve just been blasted with injuries this year and things that have gone on and because we play really hard, we’ve hardly had a game where it wasn’t a one-possession or two-possession game at the end.”

The Wildcats’ season began on Nov. 9 with a 75-58 victory against Northwest Missouri State. This was the first of six non-conference games for WSC, with the lone loss of those six coming against Truman State at the Subway Classic in Quincy, Illinois.

Conference play was full of up and down moments for WSC, who was above .500 in conference play for the first half of the season and sitting amongst the top three in the South. One game that Pollari chose as the game he would like his team to model their play from is a matchup against Concordia-St. Paul (South’s one seed) on Jan. 27. The Wildcats prevailed that day 71-49 over the Golden Bears.

“We adjusted because teams were changing what they were doing against us,” Pollari said. “That was probably the best that we played.”

The difficult NSIC schedule began to take a toll on the Wildcats, however, who lost six straight from Feb. 1 – Feb. 15 to bring their record to 13-13 overall and 8-12 in conference play.

“It’s hard when you keep losing and losing and losing,” senior Taylor Reiner said. “But the biggest thing is I think we all knew we were right there. A lot of the games it was just like a few things here or there or if we had changed this play, it would have swung a completely different direction. Knowing that we were there and having the coaching staff’s support helped.”

WSC ended its losing streak on the final weekend of the regular season with a 72-67 victory this past Friday against Southwest Minnesota State before falling to Sioux Falls, who is currently on an eight-game winning streak and second in the South, on Saturday. The Wildcats played some of their best basketball last weekend, something they hope to take into the conference tournament.

“We played our butts off the entire weekend and we really flipped the switch a little bit and just realized that it’s kind of the end of the road and we’re reaching that end and if we want to keep going, we’ve just got to leave it all on the floor,” Reiner said. “I really think that’s what we did [last weekend].”

The 16-team NSIC Tournament begins tonight, with the top four seeds in each the North and South Division earning home-court advantage in the first round. The quarterfinal round and beyond will be played at the Pentagon in Sioux Falls. WSC had the same conference record as SMSU but because the Wildcats won both regular season matchups with the Mustangs, they earned the sixth seed in the south.

The Wildcats drew the North Division’s third seed, U-Mary, who defeated WSC 65-60 on Feb. 1. In that game, WSC trailed by as many as 14 in the first half before coming back to within a point in the fourth quarter in Mary’s narrow victory.

The Marauders’ Cassie Askvig posted 34 points and 20 rebounds against the Wildcats, something Reiner did not see coming.

“[Askvig] wasn’t a player that we had been completely watching,” Reiner said. “Our game plan was to lock down these other players, which we did, but she went off, which we weren’t ready for. We’ve got a good defensive game plan to come out and try to lock her down much more.”

Tonight’s matchup against U-Mary is set for 6 p.m. in Bismarck, North Dakota. If the ’Cats are victorious in that game, they will advance to the second round to play against either Sioux Falls or Minnesota Crookston on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. The semifinal and championship games would be played next Monday at 12 p.m. and Tuesday at 5 p.m. Because WSC is not in the top eight in the regional rankings, the Wildcats would have to win the tournament championship to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Reiner joins Andrea Larson and Maggie Lowe as the graduating class on this year’s women’s basketball team. While games still remain to be played for the women this year, these three senior’s contributions to the program did not go unnoticed.

“You don’t know what you’re taking over, and you don’t know what the buy-in is going to be when you take over a new program and they were absolutely amazing,” Pollari said. “They were enthusiastic, eager to learn, and they learned a brand-new system this year after playing in a system for three years that they were trained for. They set a foundation for what our team character was going to be.”