SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – In the bitter end, they went out on their feet, making one last charge that would epitomize their season in both circumstance and result.
The circumstance was that everything that won 15 games for the IPFW women’s basketball team this season was encapsulated in the last 3:15 Sunday, when the Mastodons outscored Denver 20-14 and got back to within two points in the last minute after trailing by 13.
The result was that, like 14 times other times this season, they came up short, 79-73.
It was that kind of year for the Mastodons, who never won more than three straight after Dec. 1 , and who went through one critical stretch where they lost four of five in conference play. But it was also a year in which they once again played a beefy nonconference schedule, beat Michigan State and earned a No. 3 seed in the conference tournament by winning four of their last six games.
I think what I’m most proud about is what you saw is the same thing this team has done all year, head coach Chris Paul said after the loss Sunday. We battled. We don’t ever stop. That’s just a tribute to the quality of student-athletes that we have here.
We have really good people. They play hard and I just feel bad. Ultimately it falls on my shoulders and you know the hardest part is sometimes you feel like you let ’em down, so it’s difficult.
That’s especially true when he looked to his right, where Amanda Hyde was sitting. One of the great players in the program’s history, she finished with 1,651 career points, fourth on the all-time list, and was a two-time Summit League Player of the Year. And she went out with a dazzling 28-point performance in which she led two second-half comebacks with 22 points after halftime.
She gave me and my family and the university four years that, you know, I can’t even put into words how much it means, Paul said.
And she’ll leave a hole that won’t easily be filled, although the Mastodons do have much coming back.
Front and center is 5-foot-5 guard Haley Seibert, a first-team all-conference pick who averaged 17 points and shot 48 percent from 3-point (84-of-175). She’ll be joined by standout freshmen Ariana Simmons (9.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg and 38 steals) and Rachel Rinehart, center Rebecca Bruner and starting guard Mur Hagerman.
The key for that group will be finding an inside presence that was an Achilles’ heel this season. Bruner averaged only 4.4 ppg and 2.9 rpg as the Mastodons’ top post threat, and Sunday provided a glaring example of their vulnerability in that area: Denver exploited numerous mismatches for a combined 22 points and 22 rebounds, leading the Pioneers to a 40-27 advantage on the glass.
The addition of 6-foot-1 redshirt freshman Keanna Gary will likely help alleviate that situation, but the inside presence and finding a defensive consistency that occasionally eluded them will be high on the to-do list.
I don’t want to turn this into woe-is-me, Paul said. We’ve just got to get better.