The Columbia College women’s basketball team gathered at center court at the Arena of Southwell Complex to receive its tournament championship trophy. After posing for a few photos, the Cougars took turns ascending the ladder to cut down the nets.
They plan to keep their scissors sharp.
The No. 12 Cougars were excited but focused after they beat No. 23 McKendree (Ill.) College 105-68 on Monday in the America Midwest Conference championship.
“This thing isn’t over with yet,” coach Mike Davis said. “All the important stuff is ahead of us.”
The Cougars will play in the NAIA National Tournament next week in Jackson, Tenn.
Davis said the Cougars (30-5, 17-0 AMC) have been working toward making a run in the national tournament since the start of the season.
Last year, Columbia College advanced to the second round for the first time but lost to Houston Baptist University 79-66.
Despite its focus on the future, the present looked good for Columbia College.
The Cougars performed well from start to finish against the Bearcats (26-6, 14-3). They hit their first three 3-pointers to take a 13-6 lead. They shot 6-of-9 from behind the arc in the half and held McKendree to 1-of-9 3-point shooting.
Davis said the Cougars sometimes give up inside baskets because they try so hard to take away the 3-point shot on defense. The strategy appeared to work well against McKendree. While Bearcats post players Emily Hart and Alli Arppe combined for 42 points, the team shot 3-of-20 from 3-point range.
Playing their last game at the Arena of Southwell Complex, three Cougars seniors scored at least 20 points. Charliss Ridley led the team with 25, Lisa Kowalewski had 21 and Mindy Mitchem had 20.
Ridley barely missed a triple-double with 11 rebounds and eight assists. “I wanted to enjoy every moment when I was out there,” Ridley said.
Mitchem, who shot 4-of-5 from 3-point range, said her shooting had been off most of the year. She was excited to have regained her offense in the past few games.
“I think my shot was going through an identity crisis,” Mitchem said.
Mitchem also defended well. With eight minutes left, she blocked the ball back into the hands of McKendree’s Katie Hasheider, who hit it out of bounds.
The crowd responded with raucous applause and loud cheers.
“Access…denied” fan Danielle Brady, 13, shouted.
Four minutes later, after nine straight points by Ridley, Davis pulled his seniors, including point guard Tiffany Foote.
“I was excited; everyone was giving hugs,” Mitchem said. “I’ve had a good experience here for the last four years and it makes me happy.”
After the game, Davis won his fourth consecutive AMC Coach of the Year award and Ridley was named conference MVP for the second year in a row.
Ridley, Kowalewski, Foote and LeAnn Fossum were All-AMC and nine Cougars were selected academic all-conference.