Though they walked off the court at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa on Tuesday night without the victory, they will return home today as champions.
A “Welcome Home Ceremony” is scheduled at SSU’s University Center today at noon.
“We got to the pinnacle,” SSU head coach Robin Hagen-Smith said. “We didn’t grab the brass ring but we extended the season as long as we could. I’m really proud of their accomplishments and what they did and they put Shawnee State back into the (category of) best in the country in the NAIA Division II.”
A year ago, the Bears completed the first undefeated regular season in school history, but fell in the second round of the national tournament. Gone from that team are four of the top eight players – two 1,000 point scorers graduated, the top bench scorer transferred to an NCAA Division I school, and the starting point guard missed the season due to injury.
“Our staff knows what a big chunk we lost,” Hagen-Smith said. “That’s why this run was so special. They really put it together when there were a lot of holes to fill.
Stepping up were senior returning starters Mallory Albers and Alison Meyer, and stepping in was a third senior Whitney Williams.
Albers and Meyer joined the 1,000 point club this season and Williams broke the single-season record for 3-pointers made, finishing with 102 on the season.
Albers, a first-team All-American was also named to the all-tournament first-team and presented with the championship’s Hustle Award.
“She was not hitting, but that’s why she got the hustle award,” Hagen-Smith said. “She plays at both ends of the court. She never gets down. Her defense is as important as the offense is to her. She’s a special player. She just didn’t take a break on the defensive end. Things were going so bad for us offensively but she still had energy.”
Albers scored a team-high 16 points in Tuesday’s national championship game and ends her career as SSU’s fifth all-time leading scorer.
Meyer was selected as a second-team all-tournament player. During the tournament run, she moved from 12th to 10th on the Bears’ all-time scoring list.
Rounding out the starting five at the national tournament were sophomore guard Abby Ballman and junior center Jill Cropper.
Cropper averaged 12.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per contest in the national tournament. Ballman played the point guard position for more than 37 minutes per contest and committed just seven total turnovers compared to 20 assists and 16 steals in tourney play.
The Bears left Sioux City on Wednesday morning, making the trip to Indianapolis before resting for the night. The team’s bus is expected to arrive on campus with a police escort at noon today.
Upon the team’s arrival, a “Welcome Home Celebration” will be hosted by the athletic department at the University Center. Following the event, Hagen-Smith is slated to be honored at SSU’s baseball game against Campbellsville which starts at 3 p.m. at Branch Rickey Park.