GFU ends season with loss in NCAAs
The George Fox women's basketball team entered the NCAA Division III tournament ranked No. 8 in the country, riding high after a 12-game win streak.
The Bruins' winning ways continued in the first round with an 85-53 win over Greenville University on Friday, but their season came to an abrupt halt with an 86-78 loss to Washington University-St. Louis on Saturday.
Washington University was the host school despite being a lower seed than the Bruins – a common occurrence in D-III and a factor that was simply out of GFU's control. The hostile environment proved difficult to win in – and the Bruins did themselves no favors by getting off to a sluggish start.
"In that game, we didn't get off to the start that we really needed to," GFU coach Michael Meek said. "We had a speed advantage, they had a physicality and height advantage, and after we settled in we made it a closer game. But we can't dig ourselves as big of a hole."
The Bears won the first quarter 25-19 after taking an early 11-5 lead. From there, GFU attempted to crawl back – and it made the game competitive – but were unable to take the lead at any point for the remainder of the contest.
With just over four minutes remaining, GFU got within one, but never got over the hump. Washington University shot 56 percent for the game compared with 43 percent for the Bruins. Offensive production has been a challenge at times for this team, and it ended up being one of the major differences in the NCAA tournament.
Not being in front of their home fans hurt the Bruins, too, despite being one of the top teams in the country.
"It was definitely a competitive game," Meek said of the loss. "If we caught a few more breaks here or there, it could have gone the other way. That's the tough part about our division – the higher seeds don't always get to host, and we would have much rather been at home."
Junior Emily Holder led the way for GFU with 19 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals. Senior Tavin Headings chipped in 17 points of her own.
Three seniors depart the George Fox program as the 2018-2019 season comes to a close: Headings, Haylee Hutzler and Matney Jamieson. They each had a unique contribution to the program, according to Meek, but all three followed the same growth pattern as players.
"They all grew as they went along, and I was so proud to see it," he said. "They improved so much and left an impact on this program. It was great to see their growth."
Meek said Headings became one of the team's go-to players on offense as the season progressed. Hutzler, he said, provided necessary energy and led the team in rebounds. Jamieson's skills offensively – combined with her physicality – are what he said he'll remember most about her college career.
GFU was a young team this season and returns 16 of its 19 players going into the 2019-2020 season. The offseason is where champions are built, Meek said, so it will be up to those 16 players to spend their off time wisely and continue improving.
Unfortunately for them, many of the best teams on this side of the Mississippi return a lot of their best players. Youth appears to be the theme in the Northwest Conference and all along the west coast in Division III women's basketball.
"On paper, we'll have a lot back," Meek said. "We're really excited about what we have back and I think the challenge is that a lot of the other top teams on the west coast do too. We're going to have to keep improving and getting better."
Meek added that the closeness of this particular group allowed them to sustain success throughout the season. While he said the result isn't what he and the team wanted, he is happy about how the team approached each game.
"It was such an enjoyable group to be around," he said. "They care about each other so much and work so hard together. They represent the school well and care deeply about the George Fox community."