By Alyssa Kerry
Effort, hustle and intensity are the three huge qualities shown by the women’s basketball team so far this season. In Coach Willie Scott’s first season, the team struggled but showed improvement on way to a 14-17 record, however the squad’s record thus far has reflected big growth in the skill and success of the team.
Sophomore returner, Vashti Nwagbaroacha said, “the team chemistry is amazing, we all love being around each other and because of our chemistry, skill, and great coaching staff we are creating a new name for the lady statesman.”
The squad lost three letter winners from last season’s team: two-time letter winner, Kadejah Young, two-time letter winner, Destiny Spinner and letter winner Ashlee Harper. Coach Willie Scott began his search full year as head coach, Scott recruited many notable newcomers to start the season off. Including junior Sarah Hansen, senior Jessica Warren, senior ShaVonn Watkins, freshman Kate Ylitalo, and junior JeAnn Hiraldo.
The season for the Statesmen started out on November 3rd in an Exhibition match against Western Illinois. The squad was unable to pull out a win over the Leathernecks. However, junior Sarah Hansen had a great start to the season as she was 10 for 21 from the field, going 5 for 15 from the three-point range. Hansen was the only Statesmen that was able to make it to the double digits in the 95-69 loss. Hansen was followed by senior, Alyssa Phillips who had eight points for the game and ten rebounds.
In the season opener for the squad, they were unable to pull through, falling to Saint Xavier 97-78. The game didn’t start off well for the Statesmen as they were down 24-5 after the first quarter.
The squad had 34 turnovers, and by halftime they had half the amount of points on the scoreboard. The Statesmen were outshoot in the second half of the game, however, were able to come up with more points but it was still not enough to take control of the game. Alyssa Phillips however, hit a current career high of 28 points in a single game, she also had nine rebounds and only missed on free throw attempt. Senior, GeLina Webb, from the bench was able to score four three-pointers for a grand total of 14 points.
In one of the highest scoring games in school history, the squad fell to NAIA Division II #16 Olivet Nazarene, 116-106. The Tigers previously were the leading scoring team last year 2015-2016. Phillips went on to score a career high 39 points in one game, crushing the previous record which she had tied the game before. Phillips also got a double-double, following her career high with 11 rebounds.
Junior, Morgan Neeley added in 16 points for the Statesmen, while Webb, Hansen and sophomore Vashti Nwagbaraocha all had 12 points.
Following Phillips two success games, in which she beat personal records she was honor with being the Inaugural Heart of America Athletic Conference Women’s Basketball Player of the Week on Monday, November 7th.
When asked about about the preparations prior to a game, senior Alyssa Phillip’s said, “each game we get a scouting report of the other team and we watch film. Once we know our game plan on who the key players are and what they’re weaknesses are, we just play our game.”
The Statesmen got their first win of the season on November 7th, during a non-conference matchup against Hannibal-LaGrange winning 73-56. In the first half of the game, Hansen took charge scoring a majority of the points in the first half, with 31 points for the game and with 25 of those points being in the first half. During the second half the Statesmen were able to expand their lead over the Trojans. Phillips, who spent the first three-fourths of the game on the bench due to being under the weather she was able to come up with six points, and was matched score wise by senior, Shannika Bryant.
The Statesmen dominated #15 Central Methodist 72-56 in conference play. The squad was in the lead from the very beginning of the game, leading at one point by 32 points. Vashti Nwagbaraocha had a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds. ShaVonn Watkins, knocked out three three-pointers in her 13-point effort, while Sarah Hansen also had 13 points on the game. Meanwhile Alyssa Phillips had five blocks on the day to contribute to her strong defensive effort plus eight points to add to the squad’s totals.
In one of the most lopsided wins of the season, the squad defeated Mount Mercy 88-56, winning their third game in a row. This was the longest winning streak that the squad had seen since 2013-2014. The squad was able to come up with such a win due to the ball control that they had, which forced the Mustangs to have 27 turnovers. Sarah Hansen had 21 points, 7 assists and 4 steals to top the Statesmen line up. Hansen was followed by Vashti Nwagbaroacha who had 11 points and senior, Asia Roper, who had 10 points. Alyssa Phillips topped the boards with 11 rebounds and three blocks a while contributing eight points.
Nwadbaroacha said, “us being close helps us perform well together. We learn how each of us like to score, when our teammates want the ball, and how to motivate each other. Having great chemistry also helps the game we love become even more enjoyable, because basketball is more than just about how many games we win.”
The squad fell to #13 Baker 75-67, after coming a large deficit in the second half of the game. But the squad was unable to come out on top. The squad was outshot 41.8%-39.6%, and they had 17 turnovers. The Statesmen were lead by Alyssa Phillips who had 19 points, seven rebounds and two blocked-shots. Nwagbaraocha added in 15 points, combined with Keshunda Williams who had a 13-point effort.
On November 22, the team was able to pull out a solid 12-point win against rival Grand View. It was another showcase of their ability to score, dropping 78 on a solid 3-3 Vikings team. In the biggest game of the young season, the Statesmen did not fail to impress. They smothered the Vikings and forced 27 turnovers turning them into 34 points. “I am so proud of this team,” said Scott, “they continue to accomplish our mission of holding teams below 60 points by playing hard and playing together. We will continue to stay humble and hungry.” Leading the squad was Hansen, who recorded a game high of 28 points, with five three-pointers.
Senior, Alyssa Phillips became a member of the 1,000-point club on November 28th when she helped her squad have an 80-58 victory over Peru State. Phillips was the 22nd player in program history to reach this millstone and the fifth since WPU joined the NAIA in 2001-2002. Entering the game against Peru States, she only needed eight points to reach that mark, in which Phillips was able to wrap up the game with 15 points.
“It is a great achievement” Phillips said “but now I am back to being focused on helping our team win conference and making to the National Tournament.”
Just three years ago, Phillips started with 137 points as a freshman and since had had 311 during her sophomore year and 434 during her junior year. Up to this point she had, had 125 points for the season. Nwagbaraocha was the leading scorer for the Statesmen, finishing off the night with 18 points, sophomore, Brynesha Mosby also joined the double digit club coming off the bench and scoring ten points.
A last minute buzzer shoot from Vashti Nwagbaraocha secured the victory for the Statesmen over Avila, 59-57. The squad had a rough start to the night, but was able to fight back in the second half of the game. Nwagbaraocha had 17 points on the game, with two three-pointers. Phillips also added in nine points for the squad as well as three blocked shots. Brynesha Mosby added in eight points to the teams total.
In a very defensive game for the Statesmen they cruised to a victory against Evangel, winning 64-52. The defense limited the Crusaders to 29.3% shooting. Asia Roper lead to squad was a team high of 16 points, seven assists, five rebounds and five steals. Phillips added in 15 points, and Nwagbaraocha was also in the double figures with 12 points. Sophomore, Tyra Johnson, had eight points to add to the total and freshman Kate Yiltalo had seven during her time on the court. During halftime of the men’s game Phillips was recognized for reaching the 1,000-point mark in her career.
On December 6th, 2016 the Statesmen were unofficially ranked #33 with 6 points in the NAIA D1 national radar. The squad has had one of their top 10 game starts of the season since 1992-1993.
On December 10th the Statesmen were unable to overcome against Culver-Stockton, as the Wildcats beat the squad 78-62. Alyssa Phillips had 22 points in the game, the senior also pulled down 14 rebounds.
Phillips said, “as a group, we stick together. We’re really unpredictable because we can play like a ranked team one day, then play horrible the next, but each game is a progression and we’re trying to break that cycle of playing down to another team’s level.”
In the last game before winter break on December 12th the Statesmen were able to close out a win over #23 Lindenwood-Belleville, 81-68. Nwagbaraocha had 22 points, five assists and four steals. Tyra Johnson and senior Jessica Warren both had career highs, at 17 points.
In the post holiday NAIA D1 poll, the Statesmen jumped 3 spots in the unofficial poll to 30th with eight points on January 3rd, 2017.
In a close matchup the Statesmen came just shy of betting defending national champs, #5 MidAmerica Nazarene 68-65. The two teams battled back and forth all night, with seven ties and 14 lead changes throughout the game. Sarah Hansen had a game high of 22 points, she was followed by Phillips who had 20 points, with 10 rebounds in her double-double performance.
Phillips said, “each mistake makes us more prepared for the next game so we take pride in fixing it.”
On January 7th the Statesmen narrowly beat Graceland 75-74. The squad was down in the first quarter of the game, and continued to trail through halftime. In the final quarter, the Statesmen went into it was a nine-point lead, but the Yellowjackets refused to give up and came within one with 24 seconds remaining on the clock. The squad was able to hold their lead after Sarah Hansen made a couple of free throws in a two-shot trip despite the Yellowjackets having a trifecta with one second left. Hansen had 17 points on the game, and was closely followed by Vashti Nwagbaraocha who had 15 points, 14 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and three blocks in the game.
Nwagbaraocha said that they “have learned that to become great you have to sculpt your game and Coach Scott with the assistance of Coach Moore have been amazing in helping” with that idea.
The Statesmen had five players who were able to make it into double-figures in during their win against Clarke 82-75. Sarah Hansen lead the squad with 25 points, including three three-pointers, junior, JeAnn Hiraldo, scored 15 points off the bench. Asia Roper had 14 points, Nwagbaraocha was next in scoring with 13 points and five assists. Alyssa Phillips came in with a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds to secure the win for the squad.
The squad fell 78-66 to #19 Benedictine after having a solid first half effort. In the first part of the second half the squad come out of the locker room, expanding their lead but the visitors then went on a 22-4 run to take the lead for good. Sarah Hansen had 13 points, Alyssa Phillips had 11 points and senior Helena Rodriguez had 10 points off the bench.
The third NAIA D1 poll was released on January 17th, where the Statesmen with eight points dropped two positions down to #32.
The Statesmen captured a travel win on January 18th against Mount Mercy, winning 86-60. Alyssa Phillips topped the charts for the Statesmen with 18 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots. With was also joined with a double-double by Asia Roper who had 15 points on the board and 12 assists. The high number of assists was the third most in school history and the most since 1987-1988. GeLina Webb was also in the double figures at 13 and Brynesha Mosby was at 12.