Wade Steinlage, Assistant Athletic Director for Communications
BILLINGS, Mont. – The Statesmen women’s basketball team unfortunately saw its incredible 2018-2019 campaign end abruptly Wednesday, falling to Lewis-Clark State, 64-58, in the first round of the NAIA Division I National Championships.
Third-seeded William Penn, winners of the program’s first-ever conference tournament crown and the first regular season conference title in 31 years, wraps up its season at 30-3.
WPU was outshot 35.7-33.3 percent, but held a 39-38 edge in rebounding (tallied 12-11 in second-chance points) over the sixth-seeded Warriors (21-11). The squad is unfortunately still seeking its first nationals win as a member of the NAIA (0-3 all-time).
The Statesmen came out of the gate on the slow side, falling behind 8-0. They finally got on the board with a three-pointer by Kate Ylitalo (Jr., Maple Plain, Minn., Biology) nearly six minutes into the contest. The junior then knocked down another trifecta, but by the end of the quarter, WPU trailed 16-12.
Despite committing eight second-quarter turnovers (16 overall, 12 for L-CSC), the navy and gold were able to tie the contest at 21-21 with 6:39 left in the half. The Statesmen were outscored 18-7 in points off mistakes. Each side then went on mini 5-0 streaks, but L-CSC closed strong with seven unanswered for a 33-26 edge at halftime.
The margin grew to nine at 41-32 before William Penn got within five (49-44) with 10 minutes to go. Still behind by five at 53-48, the Statesmen tallied seven in a row to capture its first advantage at 55-53 with 5:12 left in regulation.
After the Warriors tied the game two possessions later, Brenda Pennington (Jr., Hammond, Ind., Psychology) extended the lead to three on a trifecta with 3:12 on the clock. WPU made eight long balls on the afternoon, but shot just 26.7% from behind the arc. Conversely, Lewis-Clark State was 9-for-29 (31.0%).
Unfortunately, the navy and gold came up empty on their remaining possessions, giving up nine unanswered to finish the matchup. The Warriors made seven of their last eight free throws and were 15-for-17 overall, while the Statesmen were 12-for-16 at the stripe.
Vashti Nwagbaraocha (Sr., Milwaukee, Wis., Exercise Science) was perfect at the line, making all eight of her throws, en route to a dominating final collegiate performance of 22 points and 11 rebounds. She was 7-for-12 from the field and also blocked three shots.
Nwagbaraocha wraps up her William Penn career with 1,774 points (13.8 avg.) and 1,071 rebounds (8.3 avg.). She broke the school record for free-throw attempts at 728 and is in the top 10 in nearly every significant career statistical category.
Ylitalo hit three three-pointers as part of a 14-point showing, while Pennington also reached double figures with 12 points. Shamiah Oliver (Sr., Chicago, Ill., Education) contributed six points, and Jenna Santi (Sr., Oak Creek, Wis., Sports Management) posted a team-best five assists.
“Of course we did not want our season to end today, but our players have nothing to hang their heads about,” Head Coach Steve Williamson said. “They accomplished so much this season; winning 30 games and claiming regular season and tournament titles is a great season.”
“One game certainly does not define our season,” Williamson added. “I am very proud of our seniors and all they did for this program.”
The loss ends the collegiate careers of Aerial Holiday (Houston, Texas, Biology), Jenny Hugins (Pueblo, Colo., Communication), Nwagbaraocha, Oliver, RaChelle Parks (Grand Junction, Colo., Computer Science), Santi, and Sham Troupe (St. Louis, Mo., Software Engineering). The Statesmen turned a program around that was 11-19 four years ago to a one that has advanced to three-consecutive national championships. WPU was 85-43 over the last four campaigns.