by Steve Peterson
Morningside College women’s basketball team won its first three games in the NAIA Division II National Tournament en route to a national semifinalist finish.
Bobbi McManaman left the court clutching her own trophy each player won for reaching the NAIA Division II’s “Fab Four” and the team trophy following a heartbreaking 65-64 loss to Davenport University March 11.
If there was an award for heart, character and determination to will her team to a title game, that honor would go to the senior from Hawarden, too.
McManaman made her final three-pointer as the buzzer sounded about 10:00 p.m. on a Monday in March at Tyson Events Center-Gateway Arena. The career of scoring points and contributing in many ways, especially in her last 11 games, began back on Nov. 6, 2009, when McMamanman made her first three-point basket against Mount Mercy.
“Bobbi has improved so much. She has gone from being an offensive specialist to someone who has to be on the court at all times,” said Morningside Coach Jamie Sale.
McManaman finished with 19 points, on seven of 12 all field goal attempts, four of seven from the three-point range. She had six rebounds, one assist, and one steal.
Morningside won the second half 34-26 despite the 18-1 deficit in the first five minutes. The Mustangs trailed 39-30 at halftime.
“I take the blame for the start. We knew they would high-low (offense strategy) but we did not respond well. The players almost bailed me out,” said Sale.
Sophomore Ashlynn Muhl had 11 points and 13 rebounds for a double-double for the Mustangs to lead the paint area.
Davenport’s Paige Smith led all scorers with 24 points, scoring seemingly at will in the first half on a 10 of 14 all field goal shooting night. Head Coach Steve Brooks said Taylor Goshert was an unsung hero with 13 points and showing the way to hold off the McManaman-led final Mustangs’ rally with four free throws, an area where the Mustangs trailed 12-9.
“It’s almost surreal. I’ve been dreaming about it since I was this tall,” said Smith.
Indiana Wesleyan Coach Steve Brooks, whose team reached the national final in 2007, recognized McManaman’s talents.
“She has a quick release and can step back,” said Brooks of McManaman’s three-point shooting ability.
“It’s a great win for our program. We’re excited to be in the championship game. We’re 14 hours away but we had some great fans here,” said Brooks.
The Wildcats moved on to their national championship clash with Davenport of Grand Rapids, Mich., on March 12, with a 34-3 record.
The Mustangs had a 24-23 edge in all field goals made, 7-5 in three-point baskets.
The Mustangs were still down by 14 points, 57-43, with 9:07 left when the Wildcats made their last field goal of the game, from Claire Ray.
Muhl started the comeback with a hoop and it was a 12-point deficit, when Lacey Lehmann (five points), made two baskets for a 57-49 deficit with 6:43 left.
It was still a formidable 11-point deficit after Goshert made two free throws at the 6:11 mark.
Chelsie Trask (four points) cut the lead to nine. McManaman made it an eight-point deficit, then a five-point margin with a free throw and a three-pointer.
Three straight free throws upped the lead to eight for Indiana Wesleyan and the folks from Fort Wayne could see a Tuesday game as a reality.
But hold on, the Mustangs, who were thwarted from cutting into the deficit by agonizing close missed lay-ups, still had McManaman and hope. Her three-pointer cut the lead to 62-57 with 57 seconds left. Her lay-up basket trimmed the margin to 62-59 at the 46-seconds mark.
Emma Stahl, Goshert and Ray made free throws in the final 44 seconds for the Wildcats’ final points on separate possessions.
Lehmann answered with just three seconds to go with a layup for a 65-61 deficit. After a steal, McManaman canned her final Mustang shot, coming so close to a comeback from the nightmarish 18-1 start.
“It’s hard now, but in a few days they will realize what they accomplished, the Great Plains Athletic Conference championship, the post-season conference championship. It was a great group of kids to work with,” said Sale.
Earlier NAIA tourney games
The Mustangs beat Webber International 92-43 in the first round. The Mustangs beat College of Idaho 69-47 in the second round.
McManaman, the former Falcon, shared team scoring honors with 12 points against Webber.
McManaman was the Mustangs’ second-leading scorer with 12 points in a 71-60 win over Bethel College (Ind.) in the quarterfinal round March 9. She also had four rebounds and three steals.
Sale won his 400th career win with the victory.
Trask was the leading scorer with 15 points. Ashlynn Muhl added 11. The Mustangs had a huge 52-29 advantage in rebounds, led by Muhl and Hanna Blum with eight each.
Morningside had a 19-9 advantage in free throws made.