ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, the Tabor women’s basketball team might need to lace up their sneakers for a long hike that might conclude at the NAIA national tournament in March.
The Bluejays experienced highs and lows this past week, losing one game on the road to Baker. But they came back to capture two huge games at the Cattlemans Classic in Seward, Neb.
York-Coming off an emotional victory Friday night against third-ranked Concordia, the Bluejays began this game well and built an eight-point lead midway through the first half.
By halftime, Tabor led, 27-21. But York grabbed a four-point lead in the second stanza.
“We had a bad stretch in the second half, but fortunately for us it didn’t last long,” Allen said.
Tabor eventually tied the game at 56-56 before pulling away for the final 66-59 margin of victory.
Tabor was led by Erica Hemmert, who scorched the nets for 21 points, and Rachelle Wertenberger, who added 12 points. Both players were named to the all-tournament team.
The Bluejays hit 25 of 50 shots for 50 percent and dished out 16 assists with Trixsi Odom and Wertenberger each handing out four.
“I was really proud of our kids for coming out and regrouping in less than 24 hours,” Allen said. “We played hard and we played smart.”
With the win, the Bluejays head into Thursday’s KCAC opener against Kansas Wesleyan with a 5-2 record.
Concordia-Coming off a horrendous 27-point loss to Baker University three days earlier, Tabor upset third-ranked Concordia on the first night of the Cattleman’s Classic.
Three days earlier, Concordia had defeated the defending national champion and top-ranked Hastings Broncos.
“We always set challenging goals, expected goals and lofty goals,” Allen said. “Certainly beating Concordia on their home court was a lofty goal, and I knew if we were to beat them up there, we’d have to play our very best-and that’s exactly what we did.”
Led by a tenacious defense and near-precision offense, the Bluejays blistered the nets for 52 percent accuracy, including a remarkable 10 of 12 from beyond the 3-point arc to defeat Concordia in overtime, 73-64.
“We shot the ball really well and were determined to set our offense,” Allen said. “We moved really well without the ball, and passed the ball quickly.”
The Bluejays racked up 25 assists on just 26 made field goals.
Tabor led by one point at intermission, 29-28. In the second half, Concordia went inside to their first team All-American center, Sara Harrison, who responded with 23 points and 12 rebounds to help Concordia build a nine-point second-half lead.
But Tabor rallied and pulled to within a point with less than 30 seconds to play. Tabor then fouled Concordia, who made only one free throw.
“We set up a play for Jill Hein,” Allen said. “When Hein was double-teamed, she dropped the ball down to Donya Anderson who calmly laid the ball off the glass to tie the score.”
The Bluejays secured an overtime oppportunity when they forced a turnover on Concordia’s end of the court. A last-second shot by Tabor’s Erica Hemmert just missed.
“We outplayed them pretty seriously in overtime,” Allen said. “The fact that we were the ones who caught up (in regulation) definitely gave us the momentum.”
Hemmert led the charge for Tabor by hitting 20 points, including four of six from 3-point range. Rachelle Wertenberger added 18 points, including a perfect 5-for-5 from beyond the arc.
Tabor hit 52 percent of its shots from the field compared to just 38.6 percent for Concordia.
“We limited them inside in ways that kind of surprised me,” Allen said.
Allen praised the inside of work of freshmen Anderson and Nicole Ellis.
“Donya really came into her own this weekend,” Allen said. “Nicole played really well, too, but just didn’t have the scoring opportunities.
Concordia-The Tabor women dropped a disappointing 76-49 decision to Baker University at Baldwin City Nov. 25.
“We just played poorly and a combination of things really hurt us,” coach Rusty Allen said.
Among those things was trying to incorporate former volleyball players Angela Kroeker, Shannon Kroeker and Jill Hein into a basketball mode with only one practice.
The Bluejays shot just 26 percent from the field in the first half compared to 54 percent by Baker.
“We didn’t get off to a good start in terms of shooting the ball, and it sort of snowballed on us and it became frustrating,” Allen said.
Tabor trailed 34-18 at the half and was outscored 42-31 in the second stanza.
“This wasn’t characteristic of the kind of team we are at all,” Allen said. “It happens occasionally in the game of basketball, and you just try to learn from it and build for the next time.”
Tabor was led in scoring by Angela Kroeker with 14. Erica Hemmert and Rachelle Wertenberger each add nine points.
Tabor committed 29 turnovers in the contest and were out-rebounded, 45-29.
Allen said he was happy with one aspect of his team’s game.
“We maintained a good attitude until the very end and we did not quit playing hard,” he said. “This wasn’t a conference game. If it’s going to happen, you want it to happen in the pre-season and not when it really counts.”