It has been a season to remember for the 2014-15 North Central College Cardinals women’s basketball team, as they closed out their regular season with a 103-70 win over the North Park Vikings on Feb. 21 at home, clinching the No. 2 seed in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) tournament and competing in post season play for the first time in the program’s history.
The Cardinals finished 21-4 overall and 10-4 in the CCIW. In its 2013-14 campaign, the team finished 11-14 overall and 4-10 in conference.
Head Coach Michelle Roof quickly realized at the beginning of the season that there was something special about this year’s team, but she had no idea that this is where that would take them.
“I think, first and foremost, our team chemistry and ability to perform together night in and night out was pretty rare,” said Roof. “It was something that I hadn’t experienced with a team before. Their work ethic and focus in practice everyday was unbelievable, and, as a coach, that was great to have kids who come in and give it their all every day.”
Throughout the season, all the talk was about offense: The Cardinals lead the nation for most of the season in scoring offense. Watching the women hit three-pointer after three-pointer had fans on their feet for the whole 40 minutes of play.
But, near the end of the season, the offense was sub-par. In the home match-up against Wheaton, the Cardinals fell to the Thunder 109-60, its greatest loss all season.
The team only hit six of 44 three-point shots and never held the lead during the game. Roof knew that if they wanted to make a statement in the post season, something had to change.
“Our offense has been stagnant,” she said. “The coaches in this league are so good and watch so much film, so they have been able to make adjustments that have had an impact on our offense.
“We have put a few new things in our offense here and there to change up our scheme and hopefully put a bit of wrinkle in what our opponent plans to do defensively.”
And that’s just what they did. In the final game against North Park, the Cardinals sank 13 three-point field goals, closing out the season with a total of 359 three-point field goals. This sets a new Division III record, along with 1,322 three-point attempts as a new national record.
Despite being senior night, the game against the Vikings was not the only memorable game from the season. Perhaps one of the most thrilling games was the team’s second game of the season against Millsaps College, where the team not only came away with a 117-115 win in double-overtime, but where sophomore Jamie Cuny and senior Tess Godhardt set new school records in shots blocked and points per game, respectively.
Cuny had eight blocks on the night and Godhardt put up a staggering 40 points against the Majors.
Or how could anyone forget about the 101-89 win over the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, when the Cardinals came from a 20-point deficit in the first half? Roof said she will not forget that game anytime soon.
“The 20-point comeback behind Eau Claire was huge,” said Roof. “I don’t think I have had a team come back from such a large first half deficit and come back that much speaks resilience for the team.”
So what was the secret this season? How did a team, who never made waves in the conference, suddenly take the CCIW by storm?
“This team has something special about them; they are a very focused, driven group,” said Roof. “The experience has been very enjoyable this season and we have such great chemistry and camaraderie within this group of players.
“The personalities that we have in the program, the work ethic and especially the seniors really make this team,” she said. “I’ve been with this group (of seniors) for four years. It was my first recruiting class, and we have a very close relationship, the coaches and the players, and it makes everyday a joy to be around them.”
For the three seniors on the team, this year was a perfect way to end their college careers. Roof could not be more proud, especially with the twists and turns these young women faced over the last four years.
“It’s been such an up and down journey for them and the program, but look at what they have been able to accomplish: from going 1-13 their freshman year to now having the chance to compete in the conference championship for the first time in our history of being in the CCIW,” said Roof. “They have a chance to be the most successful team in the program’s history, and to see them overcome things and grow as players and people. It’s been an amazing journey that I got to spend with them.”
Godhardt and fellow seniors Bobbi Johns and Maryssa Cladis have all contributed to the team’s success in their own ways.
Godhardt leads the team in points, scoring average, free throws made and steals.
Johns leads the team in assists and has contributed 167 points this season.
Cladis has 198 points, 16 of which she tallied in the win against Millsaps College.
But, for the seniors, their college career isn’t over. The Cardinals still have to face the Elmhurst Blue Jays at tournament host and CCIW Champion, Wheaton College, on Feb. 27.
If Roof and her Cardinals win, they will go on to face the Wheaton Thunder and play for a chance to enter the NCAA Tournament.
“Regardless of who we play in the tournament, these are going to be tough games and very competitive,” said Roof. “We are going to have to come out and play our best basketball.”