The Lady Tigers season finished with a program best record of 29 wins and 6 losses.
Following the regular season, ONU went into the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) tournament as the third seed, and won a first round game over Purdue University Calumet by a score of 117-104. In the CCAC semifinals they faced off against Saint Xavier University, the second-ranked team in the nation. Earlier in the season, on Jan. 23, the Tiger’s lost 108-96 in a tough game at home against Saint Xavier. But Olivet was ready for them this time.
The game was close at the end of the first half, with the Tigers trailing 49-47. But they had stayed in the game behind the strong shooting of junior guard Carlee Nicolas, who made five out of seven field goal shots two out of two free throws, for a total of 15 points in the half.
The second half had a lot more all-around contribution, as sophomore guard Ally Giampapa scored 12 points, senior guard Abbey Hengesbach scored eight, and senior guard Jayne Stuart scored eight. All in all, the Tigers outscored Saint Xavier by a score of 55-45 in the second half and won the game 102-94.
The momentum from the game carried into the CCAC Championship game, as the Tigers rolled to a 124-100 victory of Saint Ambrose University, led by Hengesbach’s 25 points and 18 assists and Stuart’s 15 points and seven assists.
Having won the CCAC tournament, the Lady Tigers received a number one seed in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Championship Tournament. The first game was a scare for the Tigers as they edged past Indiana University East in overtime by a score of 110-99; it was a poor shooting game for the Tigers as they shot 13-47 from the three-point line.
In the second round they would face Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU), ONU lost the rebound battle, 52-25, and assist battle, 22-3; but behind Hengesbach’s 39 points and IWU’s astounding 37 turnovers, the Tigers were able to come away with an 86-84 victory.
Sadly, the Tiger’s lost in Tournament quarterfinal in their next game to Mount Marty College; they struggled from the three-point line that night, making only 14 of their 62 attempts and committing 38 fouls, nearly double their season average of 20.4 fouls per game. This game ended the Tiger’s chances at a national championship.
“It’s obviously tough,” said Head Coach Lauren Stamatis. “Because this team really believed that we could make it to the NAIA championship game and have a chance at winning. But that doesn’t take away from everything we have done this year. Overall, such an incredible year.”
Four seniors “Words can’t really describe my senior class,” Stuart said. “I couldn’t ask for better. There’s been a lot of girls in and out of the program since I’ve been here. But it’s cool to finish with these girls.”
Following the season, Hengesbach was named to NAIA Division II All-American First Team and NAIA Division II Player of the Year Honors. Hengesbach was also named to CCAC’s All-Conference First Team, received Conference Player of the Year honors. Stuart and Giampapa were All-Conference Honorable Mentions; and junior Ashley Freeman was named an NAIA Scholar Athlete.
Coach Stamatis is excited about the next season for her team. “We have a great returning group and I feel great about the four [incoming freshmen] coming in. And to have those nine sophomores play at the tournament and go as far as they did, it gives them that hunger to back there.”
Olivet’s men’s team had a much different year than the women’s team, finishing with 18 wins and 11 losses after an up-and-down season. Their conference play earned them the second overall seed in the CCAC Championship Tournament.
Unfortunately, on Feb. 26, the Tigers bowed out in the first round of the conference tournament, losing 90- 75 to Indiana University-South Bend, a team the Tigers had beaten twice during the regular season by scores of 103-78 at home on Jan. 7 and 77-62 on the road on Feb. 13.
During the first two games, Indiana University shot 65 shots from the three-point line and only made 18 of those shots, for a three-point-shooting average of 27.6 percent. But during the first round of the CCAC tournament, Indiana University made 14 of their 29 shots from the three-point range, 48.3 percent from the three-point line.
Nevertheless, the Tiger’s still made the NAIA National Championship Tournament as an at-large seed. They were matched up with Keiser University who they played early in the year on Dec. 30 and lost to 72-66. The rematch was a struggle for Olivet’s leading scorer, Aaron Larson, who was held to 14 points, well below his scoring average of 22.9 points per game. Sadly, the Tigers lost to them yet again by a score of 77-66 on March 9. This loss gave them a final record of 18 wins and 11 losses for the season.
“I feel bummed,” said senior forward Leke Solanke. “I feel really down about the way it ended. It puts a bad taste in your mouth knowing the way things could have gone. A four- game losing streak, nobody wants to go out that way.”
But Coach Ralph Hodge spoke highly of the 2016 season. “They’ve learned how to handle the success and disappointments of a season and bounce back. They’ve got the ability to put the difficult times behind them and learn from them. And to take those successes, not get comfortable and keep pushing on.”
Following the season’s end, Larson was named to the NAIA Division II All-American Second Team. Including this honor, Larson was named to the CCAC All-Conference First Team and was runner up for Player of the Year honors. Senior Center Zach Wagner was a CCAC All-Conference Honorable Mention. In addition, seniors Taylor Tucker and Reid Farchmin and juniors Abe Barwegen, Ryan Carl, and Tyler Crater were named Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athletes.
With seven seniors graduating, there is a large hole to be filled by upcoming players. Crater, who will be a senior next year, is one of those players. “You hate to say that you’re rebuilding because it’s my last year, and we are going to in with a mentality of getting better,” Crater said.”You shouldn’t slip on your expectations just based on what you have.”
—Sam Nichols, Staff Writer