A look at the action by NCAA D-III Midwest teams from November 19-25, 2019.
Call it November Madness. Call it finding identity. Whatever you call it, these early weeks of the women’s college basketball season have shaken things up for teams in the Midwest. Some ranked teams have struggled recently, while other new-look squads have shined. The best example of the latter category this week can be found in a small town in southwest Wisconsin.
Team of the Week: University of Wisconsin-Platteville
On paper, the Pioneers look like they’re beginning a new era. Former Wis.-Oshkosh assistant coach and player Kelly McNiff moved southwest to become UWP’s new head coach in the offseason. And while the team finished 2018-19 with the best mark in five years (11-15, 5-9 WIAC), it was still only good for sixth in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
But real life looks a little different. In real life, McNiff has led UWP to a 5-0 record, which right now leads the WIAC. That record includes a big upset in the Pioneers’ only game of the past week: a win over then-D3Hoops.com ranked No. 4 Wartburg College (Iowa) on November 19th. Wis.-Platteville started strong in its home contest, leading by as many as nine points before taking a slim one-point lead into the break. Then, after the Knights came back to lead by eight in the third quarter, the Pioneers took over. Junior Jai Clemons, who had been recovering from an injury, teamed up with sophomore Taylor Gilbert to erase the lead in just two minutes. Wartburg tried to come back, but Wis.-Platteville was dominant on both sides of the ball, as the Pioneers forced the Knights to turn the ball over 10 times in the fourth quarter alone. Junior Maiah Domask led Wis.-Platteville with a double-double, scoring 22 points and adding 10 rebounds in the upset victory. She received the WIAC Kwik Trip Athlete of the Week award for her efforts. Teammate Morgan Horstman, one of just three seniors on the Pioneers squad this year, scored 10 of her 21 points in the final frame to help her team secure the win.
The game against Wartburg was Platteville’s fifth in just 10 days. That’s quite a lot for a squad, especially when they’re with a new head coach (and coaching staff). And yet, the Pioneers made it through with five wins and a top-10 upset to cap it off. After the game, McNiff credited her entire roster for their play thus far, including during Wartburg’s threat to start the second half.
“We preach poise and composure when under pressure,” she said. “When things started to unravel in the third quarter, our poise and composure was evident.
“We now know that when we focus on doing the little things right and controlling what we can control, we can compete with anyone.”
It’s too early to tell what will happen when WIAC play starts. Defending conference champion UW-Oshkosh is struggling; the Titans’ 3-3 record has moved them out of the polls while the Pioneers got in for the very first time at No. 15. So no matter what happens, one thing is for sure: there are good things happening in Platteville.
Cass’s Starting Five
G Caitlin Navratil, Sr., Nebraska Wesleyan: The Prairie Wolves had an up-and-down week that started on a very high note thanks to Caitlin Navratil. The senior put up the first triple-double in school history with 26 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists in Nebraska Wesleyan’s 83-81 win over Westminster on Tuesday, November 19th. The preseason All-American was named to the D3Hoops.com team for the week and received the American Rivers Conference’s Player of the Week award for the second week in a row.
G Jenna Mace, So., Wisconsin Lutheran: WLC had a busy week as well. After opening their home slate with a loss to Ohio Northern, the Warriors put together an upset of their own with a comeback victory over then-No. 10 DePauw. Wisconsin Lutheran was down by nine after the third quarter before Mace went off, scoring 17 of her career-high 23 points in the final frame to help her team get the upset.
C Emily Mescher, Sr., Ohio Northern: The aforementioned Polar Bears had an undefeated week, in big part thanks to Mescher. She put up 14 points in each of Northern’s two games of the Wisconsin Lutheran PFK Classic over the weekend, including in Saturday’s 62-56 upset of then-No. 17 Wis.-Oshkosh. Mescher was named to the all-tournament team for her efforts.
F Jayla Johnson, Fr., North Park (Ill.): Johnson led the Vikings to an undefeated week, including a 2-0 mark at the NPU Thanksgiving Tournament in their home gym. She scored a team-high 18 points in North Park’s 53-46 comeback win over Buena Vista (Friday) and a team-high 20 points in the Vikings’ 64-47 victory against Olivet (Saturday). Johnson was named the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin’s Player of the Week for her efforts.
F Kendall Brown, Sr., Central (Iowa): Brown provided a spark on both sides of the ball in Central’s undefeated week of play. She scored 14 points and added seven rebounds in the Flying Dutch’s 81-54 win over then-undefeated Bethany Lutheran (Minn.) on Friday and followed that with a 23-point performance in Central’s 101-68 victory over Iowa Wesleyan a day later.