COLUMBIA — “I’m scared,” Julie Teeple said as she climbed the ladder.
Teeple, a senior, was the first player on the Columbia College women's basketball team to cut down a piece of the net after the Cougars' 91-83 victory over William Woods on Monday in the American Midwest Conference tournament championship at the Arena of Southwell Complex.
Many of the Cougars took the game personally after watching William Woods cut down the nets on their home court just one year earlier.
Teeple said the revenge factor gave her extra motivation in her last game at Southwell.
Just 28 miles separate the teams, which have met in the AMC tournament title game each of the past four years, with both teams winning twice.
Columbia College easily won both regular season matchups this season. The Cougars beat the Owls 85-64 on Jan. 26 at home and then won 76-65 on Feb. 23 in Fulton.
For much of the second half in Monday's game, it looked as if the Owls would beat the Cougars. After leading 50-46 at halftime, William Woods opened the second half on an 11-2 run to pull ahead 61-48.
Columbia College missed shots, turned over the ball and made careless fouls early in the period. On top of that, it seemed like every William Woods shot went in the basket. The two sections of William Woods fans behind the Owls' bench roared in the face of the silent Columbia College fans.
Tierny Siefert tried to rally her teammates with just more than 16 minutes left.
“Let’s go!” she screamed. But the Cougars did not respond immediately. Kayla Washington picked up a reckless foul just half a minute later.
Lily Abreu had been struggling in recent games for Columbia College. Cougars coach Mike Davis said teams had been guarding her differently, and Abreu had a tough time adjusting, but he knew she would break out at some point, and Monday night she did.
Abreu scored 14 of the Cougars first 16 points of the second half, bringing the Cougars within 66-62 with a basket with just fewer than 11 minutes left.
“I was just trying to be aggressive and play defense,” Abreu said.” I got a few steals, so I went and got layups out of it.”
Sheri Phillips, the mother of Cougars guard Heather English, said her daughter was so nervous in last year's game that she was sick during the game. After struggling early Monday, English came up with a crucial basket.
With 3:55 left, English shot a fall-away jumper at the free-throw line. She sunk the basket and was fouled, bringing the Cougars faithful to their feet.
After she made the free throw, the Cougars had their first lead of the second half. But the victory wasn't complete until freshman Danielle Ingrum's basket. She hit a 3-pointer from the left corner with just 1:13 to go to give Columbia College an 84-80 lead.
Abreu led the Cougars with 28 points. English scored 16, and Siefert had 15 points.
On Wednesday, Columbia College will find out where it is seeded in the NAIA National Tournament set to begin March 13 in Frankfort, Ky.