The Northwestern women’s basketball team ended its season Monday in Sioux City, where the Raiders lost 74-68 to No. 6 Davenport.
It marked NW’s sixth consecutive Final Four appearance in the NAIA Division II National Tournament. The Raiders finished ranked seventh in the nation with a 26-8 record (15-5, third place in the GPAC).
“No doubt we grew,” said head coach Chris Yaw. “I feel like we were playing really good basketball at the end of the season, and that is what we strive for. There were some peaks and valleys on the way to that. Credit those ladies for when we are on a high to keep riding the high, and when it is going the other way keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep fighting. I feel good about how we improved throughout the year.”
NW won both ends of the court by out-shooting and out-rebounding Davenport. The Raiders controlled pace and tempo, and played to their style of team-first basketball, but it was not enough.
Junior Alli Dunkelberger led the Raiders with 18 points. Junior post Sam Kleinsasser added 11 points.
With the season over, talk has shifted toward the legacy being left by the seniors.
“One thing I would like to be remembered for is my work ethic on the court,” said senior captain Kendra De Jong. She led the Raiders in scoring and rebounding throughout the season, with averages of 18 points and 11 rebounds per contest.
That work ethic earned her both the NAIA Division-II Player of the Year and GPAC Player of the Year. It will not be the hardware that lives on in De Jong’s mind, though.
“I think one of the most memorable moments was when we would be together on the court and we needed a big stop, and we would play an awesome defensive possession,” De Jong said. “Those are the things I want to be remembered as being a part of.”
The Raiders were no strangers to the sort of come-from-behind situation they were confronted with in the semi-final game. They had come back from many double-digit deficits to win games all season, and during their tournament run to the Final Four. Their experience did not help them in the turnover battle, which NW lost 28-18.
Regardless of the season’s final outcome, this NW team can brag of their companionship, as they feel they have grown closer than other teams in the past.
“When I first came here, I thought it was really cool to see how close the team was,” said senior Mallory Cunard. “I think every year I’ve been in the program this team has gotten closer and closer. There is not one person on the team that I don’t genuinely love, and I think we all would say that.”
Yaw commented on the different leadership styles.
“Our senior leaders (De Jong and Cunard), are both tremendous leaders,” Yaw said. “They lead in their own unique way. We don’t grow the way we did without these young ladies investing in each other and their relationships.”