Tabor women win one, lose one on national stage

Tena Loewen shoots over an Indiana Tech defender during Tabor’s first-round game Wednesday. Loewen scored nine points in Tabor’s 67-58 victory. In two games at the national tournament, Loewen contributed 20 points. She concludes her Tabor career with 898 points and 697 rebounds. In its second game of the NAIA Division II national championship tournament in Sioux City, Iowa, the Tabor College women’s basketball team succumbed to first-seeded and overall top-ranked St. Francis Friday, 69-53.

St. Francis came into the game with one loss on the season—an 88-64 defeat to Saint Xavier in late February—having rattled off 31 wins prior to that.

Tabor started the game well enough, scoring 12 of its first 15 points in the paint to build a 15-10 lead at the 3:59 mark on 7-for-11 shooting. But after that, Tabor went cold, making just one of 19 attempts the duration of the first half.

Meanwhile, the Fighting Saints took advantage, scoring the final four points of the opening quarter to trim Tabor’s lead to 15-14 at the first break.

In the second quarter, St. Francis continued what it started, scoring 10 unanswered points before Amber Bonham broke an 11:41 Bluejay scoring drought with a two-pointer with 2:18 left in the half. Those were Tabor’s only points of the second quarter, though, and by halftime, St. Francis held a 28-17 lead. The Bluejays cooled to 27 percent shooting from the field by halftime (8-for-30). St. Francis, meanwhile, made 39 percent of its attempts (11-for-28).

The game’s leading scorer, Kamari Jordan, exceeded her per-game scoring average of 12.3 points by halftime, scoring 14 of her team’s 28 first-half points.

Tabor increased its scoring production in the third quarter, while holding Jordan scoreless in the period. But still, St. Francis built its lead. A 9-2 run grew the Fighting Saints’ lead to 18, 37-19, but Tabor ended the quarter by outscoring St. Francis, 12-9, making it 46-31 heading into the final period.

The Bluejays did not cut any further into St. Francis’ lead, however, and St. Francis led by as many as 23 in its 16-point win.

For the game, Tabor made 37 percent of its field goal attempts (22-for-60). St. Francis made 41 percent (24-for-59). Jordan led all scorers with 19 points. Tena Loewen led Tabor’s effort with 11 points. Amber Bonham scored 10.

St. Francis attempted 16 more free-throws than Tabor did, which was another factor in the game.

“Part of it was their team and their defense, but part of it (was) we just couldn’t hit a shot,” coach Shawn Reed said. “If you look at the game, we had one bad quarter. That was it. The second quarter was the difference in the game.

“They were stronger and more physical than us, but if we would’ve hit some shots, we would’ve been in that game.”

Tabor concludes the season with an overall record of 27-7. St. Francis, meanwhile, went on to earn a quarterfinal victory over Eastern Oregon and was still active in the tournament at press time.

For seniors Nicole Decker, Loewen, Jurnee Reid and Kaleigh Troxell, it was their final in a Bluejay uniform.

Decker and Reid were junior college transfers.

“Jurnee’s a really athletic kid,” Reed said. “It’s unfortunate that she hurt her ankle this year because I think she could’ve been a first or second-team all-conference player because she’s so athletic and can score.

“Nicole is just a tough, hard-nosed kid. Great defender, solid rebounder, played really well in our first game against Indiana Tech, made mid-range jump shots.

“Both those players have had to really learn how to play the 4 position and they’ve embraced that, and that’s helped our team have a ton of success.”

Troxell and Loewen were four-year players for the Bluejays, having helped lead the team to four national tournament appearances, where Tabor advanced to the quarterfinal round in 2015 and 2016, two regular-season KCAC titles in 2015 and 2016 and three KCAC tournament titles in 2014, 2016 and 2017.

Troxell scored 899 points in 135 career games, while Loewen tallied 898 points in 105 games.

“(Kaleigh) has really grown as a player during her time (here),” Reed said. “Started on the wing and then played point for a couple years and then got to go back to the wing. (She) has become probably one of the more steady players in our league and has helped our team culture tremendously.

“Tena’s probably one of the best defensive players I’ve coached. Tena would’ve been a 1,000 point scorer. She played 30 less games than Troxell did, so that’s a whole season.

“Both of those kids have helped build the culture of our program.”

In reflecting on a season he said was sometimes frustrating with the Bluejays’ lack of progress and reliance on talent over playing the system, Reed said the team turned a corner in February.

“We played with fire a lot and we maybe got singed a little bit but never got completely burned,” he said. “When we got beat at Kansas Wesleyan, I honestly think that was the best thing that happened to us because we finally got burned.

“I think that refocused us a little bit, and then we played really good against Oklahoma Wesleyan here at home and then played really good in the (KCAC) tournament. I felt our first game at nationals was good.

“This group was not as good defensively, which we’ll have to be better at next year. But I was pleased (with) the way that from the beginning of February on, except for maybe one or two games, I thought we started to get it a little bit more, whatever it is.”

Indiana Tech—Tabor opened play in the national tournament with a first-round victory over Indiana Tech Wednesday, 67-58.

The fourth-seeded Warriors entered the contest scoring an average of 79 points per game, and averaging 9.6 made three-point attempts per game. The Warriors also presented an inside presence, their leading scorer, Keanna Gary, a 6-foot, 1-inch center averaging 17.9 points per game, and coach Shawn Reed said it was necessary for the Bluejays to pick their poison defensively.

In the end, the fifth-seeded Bluejays held the Warriors to 21 points below their average, limiting Indiana Tech to 41 percent shooting from the field (21-for-51), including 33 percent from three (5-for-15).

“We decided (Gary’s) probably going to get some buckets, but we’d rather them be twos than threes, so we just really tried to stay out on (Haley Cook), (Taylor Seiss) and (Kendall Knapke). I think all three of those girls, 60 to 66 percent of their shot attempts are threes, so when you see that, that jumps off the page.”

Gary finished with 15 points to lead the Warriors. She scored seven of her team’s first 10 points within the game’s first six minutes, then did not score again the duration of the half.

Meanwhile, Morgan Ediger, who also scored 15 for the game, made two three-pointers within the game’s first four minutes to help contribute to an early, 8-4, Bluejay lead. Tabor made eight of 12 attempts in the first quarter (67 percent), including 3-for-4 from three-point range (75 percent) to propel the Bluejays to a 21-15 lead at the first break.

Tabor stretched its lead to double figures, 26-15, when Tena Loewen and Taylor Deniston made two- and three-point baskets in the first 1:31 of the second period. The Bluejays led by as many as 12, 31-19, but a two-minute scoreless stretch allowed the Warriors to close the gap to 31-24. Tabor led by eight at halftime, 36-28, having made 52 percent of its field goal attempts (14-for-27), while limiting the Warriors to 46 percent (10-for-22) including just 20 percent from long range (1-for-5).

Gary picked up her third foul two and a half minutes into the third period, sending her to the bench, but Indiana Tech caught fire from three-point range, making three three-pointers in the third quarter and trimming what had been a 10-point Bluejay advantage to two, 47-45, when Cook drained a three at the 2:01 mark. Jurnee Reid scored at the buzzer to make it 49-45 heading into the final break.

After the Warriors again narrowed the gap to two, 49-47, Tabor scored the game’s next four points, and the closest Indiana Tech got after that was within four. Amber Bonham drained a triple after that, and Tabor made five of eight free-throws in the final 3:40 to help nail down the nine-point win.

“Indiana Tech’s a great school,” Reed said. “I knew that it’d be a pretty even game, really, and it was. I think our experience helped us a little bit, especially in the first half, because we’ve been here and played on this court a lot. I think defensively tonight we executed and did some things we were trying to do, and that really helped us.”

Joining Ediger in double figures were: Reid 13, and Kaleigh Troxell 10.

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