Clay Sidenbender | Echo
The women's basketball team finished a school record 30-5 season in the NAIA National Tournament Quarterfinals. They lost to Dakota Wesleyan University (DWU), the defending NAIA National Champions 75-62.
The loss to DWU March 9 snapped Taylor University's 22-game winning streak. The game was also their first quarterfinal appearance since losing to Cedarville University March 10, 2007.
"I didn't even really sense any nerves in our team," junior Abby Buchs said of the mindset going into the quarterfinals. "Everyone was just so excited to play the next day."
Taylor had just won their first two tournament games and the Crossroads League Championship. Their win over Marion University was the program's first CL Championship title since 1998.
After winning the CL Championship, they had one week to prepare for Bellevue University (BU). The time off gave coach Jody Martinez enough time to prepare a good strategy.
"We knew once we got them off the starters and they had to start subbing, we knew conditioning was going to be a factor and that our style of play was going to hurt them," Martinez said.
Senior Aubrey Wright said having experience from last year's tournament helped them beat BU. Taylor was beating them by such a large margin that every Taylor player scored a point. They won 85-48.
Martinez said he had about 12 hours to prepare for the next game. Their Sweet Sixteen opponent, Corban University, played with a more physical approach.
"My concern was . . . that (Corban was) a much more physical team," Martinez said. "And, we're not a physical team. We're a finesse team."
The first half of the Sweet Sixteen game was a low-scoring affair. Corban led Taylor 29-28. Martinez said the halftime break gave his team a chance to make minor adjustments.
Corban junior forward Jordan Woodvine, a Division I transfer from Boise State University, gave Taylor trouble. She had 20 points and 4 assists in the game.
"She was tough," Martinez said. "She was probably one of the most athletic kids we faced that go inside-outside, but our pressure wore her out."
Martinez said Woodvine missed her last 10 shots. Wright attributed Taylor's free-throw shooting as a reason they pulled away. Taylor made 29 of 32 free throws in the game.
Taylor held on to beat Corban 76-68. Wright and Buchs noted the team's confidence going into the Elite Eight game against DWU.
"As the seniors were talking in our room, the night before, we were like, 'Let's do this. Let's win this next game. Let's get farther than we got last year and keep going,'" Wright said. "Because our mindset this whole tournament was like, 'Yeah, we have a chance at winning this whole thing, but we have to take one game at a time.'"
They practiced at 11 a.m. the day of the game. Taylor made shots and reviewed the offensive plays they would use against DWU's switching defense. Martinez's main emphasis for his team was to shut down DWU's two main scorers.
Martinez said their game plan worked during the game, but DWU's supporting players stepped up.
"We just dug ourselves a big hole," Martinez said. "I felt like if we could have hit a few open layups or an open three, the momentum would have shifted, but we kept missing and then, that impacted our defense."
DWU outscored Taylor 25-4 in the first quarter. Taylor slowly cut the lead throughout the game, but they did not catch up.
With seven minutes to go in the fourth, Taylor cut the lead to 10 points. Martinez said DWU had two offensive rebounds that hurt his team.
"We're tired," Martinez said of his thoughts after the offensive rebounds. "I just felt like we were running out of gas quick, but then I always try, as a coach, the best I can to have the seniors on the court to finish their career."
But instead of feeling sad over losing, Wright felt emotional knowing her Taylor career was over. She expressed pride in her team's success this season. She said many of their goals had been reached despite missing the national championship.
Martinez said he told his three seniors to remember one word: compete. He also expressed love for his team in his past two seasons coaching at Taylor.
"I told the girls too afterwards, 'I've been coaching 28 years and I don't love all my teams . . . I can honestly say I love them.'" Martinez said. "(Not) just because they believed in each other, but they believed in the culture. I'll go to battle for them any day."