BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – After one week of anticipation, the No. 24 Olivet Nazarene University women’s basketball team received word that they had received an at-large bid to the 22nd Annual State Farm-NAIA Division II Women's Basketball National Championship, held March 6 - 12 in Sioux City, Iowa, at the Tyson Events Center. The Tigers will enter the 32-team tournament seeded sixth in their four team bracket, and will face the third seeded team, No. 10 Concordia University (Mich.) on Wednesday, March 6 at noon.
Olivet (23-8, 17-5) has been ranked in the NAIA Coaches’ Top 25 Poll all season. The Tigers started the season ranked 13th in the pre-season poll and broke in to the top 10 on December 11. They eventually made it as high as sixth, in the poll released on January 8, but have made a steady decline since. They find themselves ranked 24th after suffering several late season losses, their lowest ranking of the year.
The Tigers made the move from NAIA Div. I to Div. II entering the 2012 season mostly due to the fact that the rest of the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) was making the jump. Olivet finished the CCAC regular season in a four-way tie for second place, behind Roosevelt University (Ill.) who captured their first title and the first of two automatic bids to the tournament.
Olivet entered the CCAC Tournament as the No. 5 seed, having lost the tie-breaker to the other three teams. They opened the Tournament with a decisive 112-67 win over Trinity Christian College (Ill.). The win put the Tigers on the road where they faced Purdue University-Calumet (Ind.) for the second time in a week. The Peregrine completed the sweep, dropping the Tigers out of the tournament with a 112-99 loss. Dashing the Tigers hopes of earning the second CCAC automatic bid and forcing them to sit and wait to learn their fate.
Concordia University enters the match-up with a 27-6 overall record, including a share of the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference (WHAC) regular season title with Davenport University (Mich.). The Panthers then defeated No. 21 Siena Heights University (Mich.) 71-63 in the semifinals of the WHAC Tournament before facing No. 6 Davenport in the finals. Davenport came away with a 91-61 victory, but the Concordia still earned the automatic bid since Davenport had already secured one.
The teams have faced two similar opponents this season, Purdue-Calumet and Robert Morris University (Ill.), with Concordia finishing 2-0 and Olivet finishing 2-3. The Panthers defeated Robert Morris on November 2 78-63 and turned around the next night to beat Purdue-Calumet 87-74. The Tigers split in their series with Robert Morris, losing on the road 116-108 on January 19 before defeating them on February 2 102-91 at home. Olivet struggled with CCAC foe Purdue-Calumet losing back-to-back games to them on the road 121-113 on February 13 and 112-99 on February 20. The Tigers did manage to beat them at home on January 3, 108-100.
Concordia is led HVSC Player of the Year, Abbey Hengesbach, who reached the 1,000 point milestone in the WHAC tournament Championship game in just her second collegiate season. The sophomore guard averaged 18.6 points per games in the Panthers 32 games, while pulling down 7.9 rebounds per game. She also led the team in assists (126) and was second in steals (50). Senior Hannah Sabol joined Hengesbach as a HVSC First-Team All-Conference selection. Sabol averaged 14.6 points per game, while pulling down a team-leading 10.3 rebounds per game.
Sophomore Ashley Wilson (Portage, Mich.) has led the Tigers in scoring and rebounding all season. She is currently ranked fourth in the NAIA Div. II for field-goal percentage (.626) and offensive rebounds (4.00). She is averaging 15.71 points per game and 6.191 rebounds per game. Junior Miranda Geever (Moline, Ill.) is currently ranked second in the NAIA Division II in assist/turnover ratio (2.696). She leads the Tigers with 124 assists, averaging 4.00 per game and has a mere 46 turnovers. She also ranks 11th nationally in steals with 95. Geever is averaging 10.84 points per game, shooting 116-of-225 (.455) from the field, 29-of-87 (.333) from behind the arc and 75-of-110 (.682) from the free throw line. Senior Danielle Tolbert (Pontiac, Mich.) is averaging 11.56 points per game, while pulling down 4.15 rebounds. She has 79 assists on the season and 63 steals.
The winner of the match-up will take on the winner of the No. 7 Northwestern College (Iowa) vs. RV Mayville State University (N.D.) game at 10:15 a.m. on Friday, March 8.