Sioux City, IA — Saint Xavier women’s basketball is stamping its print on the 2017 NAIA National Tournament with record breaking performances. With a 69-53 win over College of the Ozarks, the Cougars are heading to the Final Four for the first time in program history.
“It was a great accomplishment for us,” head coach Bob Hallberg said. “We’ve had some great teams here and great individuals. The only goal that escaped us is getting to the final four and now that we’re here, we have to take care of business on Monday so we can survive and come back on Tuesday.”
Over the course of 17 years, the women’s basketball program has had its share of regular season championships, number one overall rankings, and conference title wins. Despite a rich history of success, the 2016-17 Saint Xavier Cougars has an opportunity to rise above it all.
The women enter the Final Four with a 33-2 record, which officially recognizes them as the most winningest team in program history. Not only has teamwork and preparation gotten them to this point, but record-breaking individual performances have enhanced the team’s success.
Kara Krolicki is acknowledged as one of the best shooters in the country. In a second round National Tournament matchup against Friends University, Krolicki eclipsed 2,000 points for her career. The junior guard is the fastest player in school history to reach the milestone and needs only 317 points to set the all-time Saint Xavier record.
On top of being the country’s top shot-blocker, as well as a dominating presence on the boards, Brittany Collins reached a milestone of her own. On the same night Krolicki notched 2,000 career points, the junior center became the 17th player in Saint Xavier history to score 1,000 points or more in her career.
Meanwhile, Mikayla Leyden currently reigns as the program’s all-time assists leader after breaking Alex Barone’s previously held record of 504. The senior boasts an incredible 80-game streak with at least one recorded assist.
Leyden, Collins, and Krolicki are often referred to as “The Big Three” at this level due to their unique skill sets and uncanny ability to dominate the game by themselves. It is safe to say the Cougars would not be where they are today without the outstanding accomplishments from the dynamic trio.
When it comes to the NAIA Tournament, the three leaders need a capable supporting cast. Thus far, freshmen Chanel Fanter and Maddie Welter have stepped up in a big way.
“I think me, Brittany, and Mikayla did a great job of telling them ‘it’s OK’ when things don’t go their way,” Krolicki said about the two first year guards. “We told them we were behind them 100 percent, so I think that really helped. They do not look like freshman out there at all. They look like they’ve been playing here for three years.”
Fanter and Welter combined for 51 points in the opening two rounds of the National Tournament. On Saturday, Fanter scored 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, while also reeling in six rebounds without being subbed off the floor in the elite-8 victory. To this point, the bright lights do not seem to faze the newcomers.
“Someone once told me that you shouldn’t be nervous,” Fanter said. “I kind of just kept repeating in my head: ‘What makes this [game] different from the rest?’ And that helped me settle down.”
Chemistry can be overlooked within a team that outscores its opponents by an average of 30 points per game. However, when it comes to this group, the leadership established from the upperclassmen takes them to another level.
“They’ve been amazing,” said the freshman Fanter. “This team has really opened up and I feel comfortable going up to anyone and talking to them about anything. I think our chemistry with this group is really special.”
“I try to be a leader vocally, but I think I lead more by example,” said senior Mikayla Leyden. “I try to do whatever I can to help the team out. I’m just happy to be a part of this group and help this team hopefully win a national championship.”
Saint Xavier definitively established itself worthy of a No. 1 seed after defeating Indiana University Kokomo 100-61 and Friends University 96-66 in the opening two rounds of the National Tournament. Fresh off a hard-fought 69-53 win in the elite-8, the Cougars are only two wins away from its first ever women’s basketball National Championship.
Standing in the way first will be Concordia (34-2) on Monday, March 13 at 8 PM. The winner of that contest will have the right to face either defending champion Marion University (33-3) or CCAC foe University of Saint Francis (34-1) on Tuesday evening for the NAIA title.
“We are looking to go all the way this year and we definitely believe we can,” said senior Revi McMahon.
Tune in to WXAV.com or 88.3 FM for coverage of the women’s national title run.
Senior Sports Editor