DePauw University rattled off a season-ending 21 game winning streak to easily run away from their conference field. Franklin College emerged from a tight three team cluster to survive one of the most competitive HCAC races in recent memory. The reward for both were automatic berths into the NCAA Tournament (Division 3) that kicks off this weekend.
In reaching the NCAAs for the 11th time in the past 15 years, DePauw shook off an uncharacteristic slow start to the season as the Tigers began the campaign 4-3. Two of the losses, however, were nailbiters to fellow tournament participants Washington (23-2) and Thomas More (25-3). Kris Huffman's squad has been a veritable juggernaught since then, with all but two of the wins coming by double figures, including an average 30 point margin in their three SCAC Tournament victories. The Tigers now stand at 25-3 after an unbeaten league run and poised to challenge for their second NCAA title of the past decade.
A balanced attack that amazingly sees no players averaging double figures on the season is composed of players from six different states. Two starters hail from Indiana: Brooke Osbourne (8.0 ppg, 36.1% 3pt) from McCutcheon (pictured) and Kate Walker (6.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.9 apg) out of Perry Meridian. Franklin's Lindsey Vandivier has also seen minutes in most games as a three-point bench threat.
DePauw opens NCAA action this evening against Lakeland College (22-6) at 5:30pm. The winner will advance to most likely play 4th ranked Hope College in the 2nd round.
While the Tigers opened a cushion early in the conference race and maintained that advantage throughout, Franklin's run through the Heartland Conference was much rockier. The Grizzlies were one of three schools selected in a dead-heat in the preseason polls (along with Hanover and Transylvania) and those predictions were borne out. FC and Transy finished in a tie at 13-3 with Hanover one game on their heels; the tie-breaker and homecourt advantage went to Franklin and proved huge as they narrowly edged Hanover in the conference tournament finals.
Kim Eiler is leading the Grizzlies to their third NCAA appearance in her six seasons on the job. Whiteland product Sarah Condra (15.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg) was named league MVP, while Mooresville's Heather Harper (15.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 56.9% FG) joined her on the All-Conference 1st team. Traci Lippold of Center Grove (10.1 ppg) is a third double-digit scorer for an all-Indiana roster.
Franklin opens NCAA play this evening as well, a 9:00pm tipoff against a daunting opponent. 3rd ranked Illinois Wesleyan will play host to the Grizzlies with the winner advancing to face the survivor of Simpson and Chicago.
Despite a narrow 80-73 loss to Franklin in the conference finals that cost them a shot at the NCAA Tournament, Hanover College had arguably their most successful season in program history. Their 20-7 record represented the highest win total ever, eclipsing the prior mark of 18 victories set a year ago. Another all-Indiana team, Hanover was led by Terre Haute North grad Molly Martin (19.3 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 54.0% FG), who became the all-time leading rebounder in Panther history. Other top performers included Bloomington South's Torin Franz (10.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and Manchester's Holly Vogel (10.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg).
Anderson University struggled to just one win in the non-conference portion of their schedule but bounced back to finish in a 5th place tie in conference, wrapping up the campaign with a 7-19 record. Lauren Leisure (Frankton) averaged 11.7 points while the Ravens got strong contributions from a talented rookie class that included two members of the HCAC All-Freshman team (Courtney Prater of Lapel and Batesville's Amy Wuestefeld).
After a four year run of 75-36 with three trips to the NCAA Tournament, Manchester College was faced with replacing a strong senior class this winter. The Spartans finished 6-20 and in a 5th place tie with Anderson in the league, including a two-game sweep of the Ravens. Kailey Honn (Westfield) was a standout inside, averaging 10.3 points and blocking 55 shots on the year, while hometown product Melissa Eltzroth (6.9 ppg) and Martinsville's Kelsey DeMott (6.7 ppg) provided support.
Rose-Hulman fielded just a nine player roster and a single senior en route to a 4-21 finish, but their season's highlight was wrought with repercussions. A 43-39 win against Transylvania proved to be the upset that cost the Kentucky school homecourt advantage in the league tournament and paved the way for Franklin and Hanover to ultimately play for the NCAA automatic bid. Evansville North's Nicole Klass (6.6 ppg) started every game while Julie Hart (LaPorte) and Paige Klemme (Greenfield-Central) saw part-time starting duties.
Among out-of-state HCAC schools with Indiana products, Jeffersonville's Ashley Pait (8.2 ppg) spearheaded the attack for Transylvania (19-7) from the point as the Pioneers earned a regular season co-championship. Defiance College (17-10) had their best record since 2004 in large measure to the outstanding play of All-Conference pick Shavonda Price (Ft. Wayne South), who averaged 12.8 points, 7.2 rebounds while leading the Yellowjackets in blocks and steals. A third starter in the league, Brittany Sparks of Eastern Greene, averaged 5.8 points for Mount St. Joseph as they finished 7-18 on the year.
Poised to join the HCAC as a new member is Earlham College. The Quakers struggled to a 3-22 mark this year, heart-breakingly losing ten games either in OT or by seven points or less. Evansville Bosse's Nikki Darrett (11.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg) led the way, while Whitney Sparkman from Tippecanoe Valley contributed 6.0 points off the bench.
Coming off a school-record 17 wins, St. Mary's continued their solid play with a 15-12 season for Jenn Henley. Anna Kammrath (South Central) concluded one of the top careers in Belles history averaging 11.0 points and 9.8 rebounds, while Plymouth's Jessica Centa added 10.1 points and 4.5 rebounds). Mishawaka Marian's Katie Sullivan was also a season-longer starter.
Photos courtesy of the DePauw, Franklin, and Hanover sports information departments.