BELTON, Texas- Without an NCAA Tournament berth on the line, the American Southwest Conference tournament has a different feel this time around for the UMHB women’s basketball team, though the Cru’s mentality has not changed.
The past three years, the Cru entered the conference tournament with the same mentality: reach the ASC title game, and make a case for a spot in the national tournament, whether that be an automatic berth by winning the conference championship or through an at-large bid.
Above image: The 2020 UMHB women’s basketball team became the first in program history to win an ASC Tournament
The NCAA made the decision in February to cancel the national tournament, so the second part of that postseason goal is out for the Cru. Yet, the first part, reaching the conference title game, remains intact.
With the commercialization of “March Madness”, even at the D3 level, and the status symbol that comes with a team making a run to “The Big Dance”, the loss of the national tournament likely had an affect on many teams across the country. At UMHB, however, that is a nonissue. The players were disappointed by the decision, but it did not set the Cru back.
“Kids these days, and this is just talking among coaching friends across the country, division one, division two, division three, want to win,” said UMHB head coach Mark Morefield. “But I think the ultimate goal is everyone wants to play in the NCAA Tournament. Because at the end of the day, that’s what you see on TV, that’s what you hear about. For us, our culture is a culture of winning. So it doesn’t matter if it’s a regular season game, if it’s a conference tournament, our culture is about winning. Anytime we compete, we expect to go out and win.”
The mentality will be evident when the Crusaders take the floor on Wednesday night at 5 p.m. CT in Abilene, facing No. 1 West seed Hardin-Simmons in the quarterfinals of the ASC tournament. The Cowgirls defeated the Cru twice in the regular season and enter the matchup ranked No. 11 in the nation by D3hoops.com. At the same time, prior history does not often play too big of a role in postseason play, and as Morefield mentioned Tuesday, UMHB “is not a typical fourth seed”. Plus, it is awfully hard to defeat an opponent three times in the span of three months, something HSU will be aiming to do.
“There are two trains of thought for us,” said Morefield. “We’re approaching this as the first game. We want to win the first game and our biggest thing is the motto of any [team in a] postseason tournament in March, ‘survive and advance’. That’s our thing.
“I do know it is hard to beat a team three times and I think what makes us even more unique is that we’re not your typically fourth seed. We came in as the favorites to win the division this year. Obviously we didn’t achieve that, but the talent is there.”
The talent certainly is, as the Cru have a balanced scoring attack and a relentless defense that held divison one Abilene Christian to its lowest three-point field goal percentage in non-conference play. UMHB has depth at every position on the floor, making the Cru even more dangerous in a must-win situation.
The frontcourt is led by graduate student Taylor Kollmorgen and sophomore Hannah Eggleston, who is coming off a 31-point performance against Howard Payne. Junior Allaira Jones and freshmen Kaitlyn Kollmorgen and Meagan Johnson are consistent off the bench, as each has seen significant minutes this season.
The backcourt is just as strong with sharpshooters in guards Olivia Champion, Brooke Elliott, Bethany McLeod, Ashley Faux and Alexia Martin. McLeod and freshman Cheyanne Bonilla have manned the point guard position for much of the season, Elliott has three years of extensive postseason experience, and Champion and Faux are accurate from three-point range.
HSU finished the season strong, winning 11 of its last 12 games, though the Cowgirls dropped the season finale at home against UT Dallas on Saturday, 88-80. Guard Brittany Schnabel is the heart and soul of the HSU offense, with a team-high 13.3 points per game. Guard Hallie Edmondson and forward Parris Parmer both enter Wednesday’s contest averaging 12.2 points per game.
Though the Crusaders are a No. 4 seed in the tournament, and are considered underdogs based on that seeding, Morefield is not concerned about his team’s ability to make a run at the conference title.
“I can tell you this, first round, second round, it’s going to be hard to beat us,” said Morefield. “Whoever we play, it is going to be hard to beat us a third time, whether it’s Howard Payne, Hardin-Simmons or Sul Ross State. I like that challenge and I like those odds in our favor.”
The conference tournament always has a different feel than the regular season, considering it is a single-elimination bracket. However, the ASC made the decision to play the quarterfinal games on Wednesday, with the semifinals and championship game not coming until Sunday and Monday. In comparison, the ASC Tournament typically spans Thursday-Sunday, with all games played at one site, and the final two teams having played three times in three days. With the unique setup for this season, the teams who win Wednesday will have three full days to prepare for their next opponent, instead of somewhere around 24 hours.
“I think where [the conference tournament set up] helps, is it’s very hard to win three games in three days,” said Morefield. “I think that’s the dynamic of conference tournaments, is anyone can win three games in three days. Anyone can get hot, anyone can get going, so it is very hard to win three games in three days. You’re quicker in preparation turnaround, there is less time for the body to heal and rejuvenate itself, so obviously this is a tremendous benefit.”
Like the other seven teams set to battle on Wednesday, UMHB enters with a mentality of having an 0-0 record. The regular season is behind the Cru, and focus is on these next six days in March, when anything can happen.
“Part of the excitement of the conference tournament is that anyone can get hot, anyone can put a three-game winning streak together, anyone can compete,” said Morefield.
The winner of the quarterfinal contest between UMHB and HSU will face the winner of No. 2 seed UT-Dallas and No. 3 seed LeTourneau on Sunday. The semifinals and championship game will be played at the site of the highest remaining West Division seed.