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  • Mary Vickery, Staff Writer

Women's basketball ends 28-year drought, will host conference tournament

Updated: Feb 23

Photo by Jason Lehman

Women's basketball has placed first in the Northwest Conference for the first time since 1996. The team officially took the regular season title last week after a long, hard-fought season. Now, the battle for the conference championship awaits this coming weekend, starting Feb. 23. 

According to senior guard Megan River ('24), having two strong presences in the post this season has helped propel the squad. The return of Ava Kitchin ('24) after an ACL injury and strong performances from Ashley Collins ('24) have added a crucial dimension to a team that relied heavily on a five-out system last season. River also noted Head Coach Peg Swadener has been "holding [the team] to a higher standard." After going 9-7 last season, the 'Cats are heading to the conference tournament 14-2.

Elyse Waldal. Photo by Jason Lehman

Swadener fully asserts that the results have been a long time coming. “When I came 12 years ago the team had only won one game all year …. I’ve been building it year after year and we’ve made it to the tournament a couple of times but we haven't really made that next step to the championship level. This year we were able to take that step …. We are only here because of all the work that's taken place by all the alumni that have played here the last 12 years.”

At the ‘Cat’s final regular season game this Saturday a group of those very alumni sat just a few rows behind Willamette's bench, providing support. Around them, the gym was packed with parents and students alike. Popcorn wafted through the air, and the crowd buzzed with each passing quarter. 

It seemed as if the bench and the rabble fed off of one another. With every spike in energy from the bench came a roar from the crowd. The Willamette Pep Band played at a forte, set in time with the squeaks of shoes on the court. Mothers watched their daughters enter the game for one of the last times.

By the last three minutes of the game, emotion sat heavy in the air. Teammates embraced, fans yelled and when the buzzer finally sounded, Willamette had routed Lewis & Clark 71-43, cementing their position as regular season champs. 

Photo by Jason Lehman

From here, Willamette will host the conference tournament this weekend. They play the fourth seed team, Puget Sound this Friday at 8 p.m. after Whitman and Pacific play at 6 p.m.. The winners of those games will then play on Saturday, also at home. 

The competition will be fierce. As River put it, “Our conference is so good, like anyone can beat anyone if you don't show up — or if you just show up. UPS, Whitman and Pacific have always been huge competition for us.” The squad has defeated the Loggers twice this season, but each game has been competitive. 

The Bearcats are hoping for a good crowd turnout. River emphasized that fellow student support makes a huge difference to the team. When prompted about anything the average Collegian reader may need to know, Swadener exclaimed, “I’d love to see [you] here at 8 o’clock. [The students] are fun, and we’re a fun team to watch. There’s a lot of transition, there's a lot of up-tempo stuff and there's a lot of playmaking ability with our team. …. Let’s just have a good time.”

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1 Comment

Feb 22

Hoping that the team gets support and a victory! Good Luck. Nice story

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