Building on their historic season, the Grand Valley State University women’s basketball team (30-2) won their fourth NCAA regional championship in school history after defeating the University Walsh (28-5) by a score of 64-61.
“It was very exciting (to win the regional championship),” coach Mike Williams said. “I don’t think it was a relief because I’m not sure we expected to win this or expected to win it. I think people were really excited for each other, for their team. and for what we have accomplished.
Trailing by one point at halftime, sophomore guard Ellie Droste provided a huge spark in the second half, scoring her 19 points in the third and fourth quarters. Picking up two quick fouls in the first quarter, Droste was forced to sit out the rest of the first half.
“I had really big foul problems in the first three minutes of the game, so I didn’t play at all in the first half,” Droste said. “Going into the second half, I knew I had to step up for my teammates.”
Perhaps Droste’s most important play came with 1:50 remaining in the contest, as she hit an NBA range three-point field goal near the logo.
“I didn’t even realize how far back I was,” Droste said. “I remember Hannah (Kulas) passed it to me and I pulled it. It didn’t seem like it was necessarily going to come in at first, but when it did, I was obviously very excited.
She then hit two free throws and a layup to help close the game. Her performance helped her earn her Midwest Region MVP for her production in the first three games of the NCAA Tournament.
Droste said she was surprised to have received the award and didn’t even know it was something that had been given.
“When they called my name, I was really shocked and excited because it was such an awesome award to get, and I was honored to get it,” Droste said.
Along with Droste, senior guard Emily Spitzley finished with 10 points, two rebounds and a steal, while junior forward Hannah Kulas contributed with seven points, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Coming to the area like the no. 2 seed, the Lakers had a little extra motivation as many within the GVSU community thought they deserved the no. 1 seed and the chance to host the Midwest region.
“Obviously you want to do regionals, you want to be at home,” Williams said. “But I thought it was a good thing for us – getting away from here, maybe not as much pressure, and maybe a bit of, ‘yeah, you think you’re not. 1 , here’s your chance to prove it,” and I think they did.
Now in the Elite Eight, the Lakers are the no again. 2 seed and will face the no. 7 seed, Missouri Western University (24-9).
GVSU will be looking to continue their impressive defense, as the Lakers have been the top performing defense in the nation for most of the year, allowing just 49.8 points per game.
“Coach (Williams) spends so much time on our defense in our practices, it’s the majority of our practice,” said second-year guard Hadley Miller. “Before the games we practice defending specifically for the team we are going to face a few days before and we just repeat it and he gives us very good clues to follow.”
Miller has been a key contributor defensively this season, being selected to the All-GLIAC Defensive Team and tallying 30 interceptions and nine blocks on the year.
Although it was an individual accomplishment, Miller said the team as a whole has given him success on the defensive end this season.
“We play defense as a whole, obviously,” Miller said. “So having my teammates behind me when I’m wrong or when a shooter beats me around a screen and heads for the hoop, knowing I have that help on defense allows me to stick to the basics. and to really give in to which coach Mike is training us.
GVSU will have to keep up the impressive defensive work as they face an MWU team that is averaging nearly 75 points per game on the season.
Williams said keeping things simple and staying rested was key going into the final stretch of the tournament.
“We’re going to keep it simple,” Williams said. “We’re going to keep doing the things we do – keep the game plan simple because you’re playing against people you’ve never played before, the preparation time isn’t huge and we want to keep our body costs.”
The Lakers will face the Griffons at Bill Harris Arena in Birmingham, Alabama on March 21.