Women's basketball squad reflects on sweet season
When asked to characterize the team that went 24-4 this season and made it to the NCAA-Division III Sweet 16, PLU women’s basketball coach Gil Rigell fell back on one word: teamwork.
“When you talk about team, we achieved being a team,” Rigell said. “Not all teams can say they reached the goal of being a team, and we did.”
Sitting in his office in Olson Auditorium, Rigell pointed to a quote from basketball legend Michael Jordan on his dry-erase board: “Heart is what separates the good from the great.”
“(Heart) is one thing this team had a lot of this year,” Rigell said. “Next to the concept of team, we had a lot of heart.”
The Lutes posted a 72-54 victory over Chapman and a 62-50 win versus the University of Puget Sound in the first regional round of the NCAA tournament.
A successful pitch to host the next game, the sectional contest against Hardin-Simmons of Abilene, Texas, made the Lutes the first women’s basketball team in the western United States. to host a sectional round of the NCAA-Division III tournament. The bid also brought Wisconsin-Stout (Menomonie, Wis.) and Randolph-Macon (Ashland, Va.) to PLU for the sectional round.
Excitement over the Lutes’ run in the tournament brought palpable energy to campus in late February and early March, and provided a testament to Lute pride. Tournament games were well attended. At several, the student section, replete with Lute colors – yellow and black – remained on its feet throughout the entire game.
PLU held a 16-3 record until the end of January, when a loss to cross-town rival University of Puget Sound prompted the team to refocus. The Jan. 31 loss was followed by an eight-game winning streak, which ended with the 72-76 overtime loss to Hardin-Simmons in the sectional round.
After the Jan. 31 loss to UPS, Rigell called a team meeting and the Lutes revisited goals that were established at the beginning of the season. The team redefined roles and, in the process, rediscovered a commitment to one another that sent them tearing through opponents for the rest of the season.
“We were all on the same page and shared a common goal,” senior wingng Anna Sticklin said. “Each individual put the team first.”
As for Rigell, who just completed his ninth year as head coach of the women’s basketball team, the bond he shared with this winning squad will not soon be forgotten.
“This is a team I felt like I was going to coach forever and we were never going to stop being together,” Rigell said.
“Everything was just ‘wow, ” he said. “I had the best seat in the house.”
Several Lutes were recognized for their outstanding individual seasons, including Rigell, who was selected for Coach of the Year honors in both the West Region and the Northwest Conference. Junior Nikki Johnson was named Northwest Conference Player of the Year. Seniors Kelly Turner and Mallory Mann and junior Kezia Long were named to all-conference teams. Johnson and Turner were also singled out for All-West Region honors by the Web site D3hoops.com.
As a whole, the team had a school-record winning percentage of .857.
“This is one of the funnest seasons I’ve ever had as a coach. Not because we went the furthest but because we had fun,” Rigell added.
Even though the Lutes wanted to play in the Final Four, the team will remember a shared sense of camaraderie and unity more than anything else, Sticklin said.
“We got along so well and everyone understood their roles,” Turner agreed. “We definitely had a memorable and fulfilling season.”
Lute record setters
Three recently graduated student-athletes have left an indelible mark on the PLU record books.
The women’s basketball and fastpitch softball teams have had hugely successful seasons over the past few years, largely behind the efforts of three key players: basketball players Kelly Turner and Mallory Mann, and softball’s Gretchen Ruecker.
Turner ranks No. 1 in six season-best and career-best categories and sits among the top 10 in two other season categories and four more career-best categories in basketball. Her six No. 1 tallies include three-point field goals made in a season (67) and over the course of her career (218), three-point field goal percentage for a season (47.4) and career (42.7) and free throw percentage for a season (89.4) and career (86.7).
Turner’s three-point prowess earned her the top spot in the single-season three-point field goal category this year. The standout performance came on the heels of three straight years of landing in PLU’s single-season top 10 in that category. She holds three of the top 10 single-season records for percentage of three-point field goals made, including the school record of 47.4 percent during her sophomore season. In a game against George Fox in January, she made eight three pointers, setting a single-game school record.
Turner set the single-season free throw percentage record last year and nearly bettered that mark this season. She is among the top 10 in points for a season and career, career field goals made, free throws made in a season and career, and career assists.
Turner was named to the Northwest Conference all-conference team all four years and was a first team selection this season.
Mann played side-by-side with Turner as point guard, and is atop the record book in all three assist categories. She had 16 assists against George Fox in January, set the single-season record this year with 171, and is the career leader with 477. She has five of the top 12 single-game assist marks.
During her career, Mann was twice named to all-conference teams. She was a second team pick this season.
On the softball field, Ruecker established five single-season records in 2004 – batting average (.524), runs batted in (62), extra base hits (29), total bases (117) and slugging percentage (.992). Another unusual stat is a testimony to her powerful bat: Ruecker is also PLU’s career leader in the number of times she has been intentionally walked, and last year set an NCAA-Division III season record with 10 intentional walks
Ruecker has been selected as the NWC’s Player of the Year the past two seasons. She has made the all-conference first team three times and has been an all-region pick during each of her three years at PLU.
Last year, she was named a second team All-American by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association and an Academic All-American by ESPN The Magazine the past two years.
Lute Club Golf Tournament June 26
Entries are still being accepted for the Lute Club Golf Tournament, scheduled for Friday, June 26, at the Oakbrook Golf and Country Club in Lakewood, Wash.
The cost is $150 per player, which includes lunch and dinner.
The deadline for entries is June 17. More information and a registration form are available on the PLU athletics Web site at www.plu.edu/athletics.
New men’s basketball coach
As this issue of Scene was going to press, the search for a new men’s basketball coach wrapped up with the announcement that Steve Dickerson, former assistant coach, will replace Dave Harshman as head coach.
Harshman announced in March his decision to resign. Dickerson has been PLU’s assistant coach for the last three seasons, and was selected from a pool of nearly 75 applicants after a nationwide search. Dickerson has been working as interim head coach since Harshman’s resignation.
“It’s very humbling that I was chosen to lead this program,” Dickerson said. “It just means that I can stick with these guys and hopefully turn this program around, which hasn’t happened in a long time. I am boldly predicting that we’ll start winning as soon as next year.”
Harshman coached at PLU for four seasons.
For more information about Dickerson, visit the PLU athletics Web site at www.plu.edu/athletics.