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By Brian Kalish
February 21, 2013
Stevens Point– Things weren’t looking great for the SPASH Panthers at the start of their Valley Conference match up against the Evergreens of D.C. Everest on Thursday night, but with a share of the conference title on the line, the Panthers came together for what was their most significant win of the season.
SPASH earned a hard-fought 35-27 victory over Everest and a share of the Wisconsin Valley Conference with Wausau West. The Warriors and Panthers each battled to a 10-2 conference record this year.
The Panthers got off to an ice cold start on offense against Everest. SPASH managed only two points in the first quarter, while Everest scored eight in the opening frame on hot shooting from senior guard Lauren Anklam and inside baskets by Taylor Hodell.
SPASH’s lone first quarter basket was scored by Taylor Smola.
“At the beginning of the game, we definitely didn’t have the kind of energy we needed,” said SPASH’s Heather Woyak. “It was really a group effort to try to pick up the intensity.”
After a disjointed beginning to the second quarter by SPASH’s offense, falling behind 12-4 at one point, McKenzie Taggatz hit a three pointer, followed by a long two by Bryanna Reisenauer.
Those two shots helped to turn the tide in SPASH’s favor.
A Nicki Hauser three pointer with time winding down in the second quarter gave SPASH their first lead of the game at 14-13, and the Panthers held on to take a 16-15 lead into halftime.
Mirroring how they started the game, SPASH’s offense struggled to find its footing against the Evergreens in the beginning of the second half. Everest employed a full court press on defense, which, while it didn’t produce a lot of turnovers, helped to control the tempo of the game. On offense, Everest was patient all night, taking high-percentage shots and attempting to work the ball into Hodell, who had a big height advantage over SPASH defenders.
“We always look to get Taylor the ball,” said Everest head coach Matt Bullis. “She’s got a height advantage and once we got Taylor Smola with two early fouls, we thought that feeding Hodell and trying to get that third Smola foul was a good strategy.”
With the score locked on 18-18 for what seemed like an eternity, SPASH got two huge baskets from Woyak– a jumper, followed by a three pointer as time expired in the third quarter– and SPASH shot out to a 25-18 lead going into the final frame.
“As soon as I hit that three, the crowd started going crazy,” Woyak said. “I think that made everyone want to play just that much harder to finish the game.”
Everest’s offense struggled to find a groove in the fourth quarter. The Evergreens’ first basket came at the 3:20 mark in the fourth. Despite their offensive struggles late, the Evergreens wouldn’t go away, pulling within four points with under two minutes to play.
However, SPASH wouldn’t be denied. The Panthers got late free throws from McKenzie Taggatz and Woyak to seal the victory and give SPASH it’s second conference title in two years.
In reflecting on the season overall, SPASH head coach Dave Hauser said that he thought the conference race was going to be a battle this year.
“I thought we were going to have an outside chance (at the conference title),” Hauser said. “But there are just so many good teams in the conference… We just kind of ground things out all year and showed a little more toughness as the year went on. Our defense was really the key for us this year.”
Hauser had high praise not only for the senior leaders on the team, but also the younger players.
“There’s been a lot of time and effort that has gone into this team,” Hauser said. “Our underclassmen have done awesome this year, kind of playing roles that aren’t very glamorous. But they’ve come in and taken advantage of their opportunities. It takes a special team to take six seniors like that and have underclassmen who keep plugging away like they have.”
SPASH (35) 2 14 9 10
Everest (27) 8 7 3 9
SPASH: Woyak 11, Reisenauer 4, Taggatz 6, Hauser 5, Smola 6, Kolbeck 3
DCE: Anklam 4, Hodell 10, Mathies 5, Ziolkowski 6, Pagel 2