HOLLAND, Mich. – Just imagine 6-foot-5 Hannah Munger as an elementary school teacher. When she got to work with a second-grade class this year, the kids were amazed to be around her.
“They would say, ‘You are so tall!’,” she said with a hearty laugh.
There’s a good chance the players from top-ranked Amherst were saying the same thing Friday while they watched the George Fox junior center almost single-handedly end their 50-game winning streak and hope for back-to-back national championships.
Munger scored a game- and career-high 36 points, grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds, altered countless shots and, not bad for a 53-percent free-throw shooter, hit her first 14 from the line before missing the last two in the final minute.
The result was a 76-69 victory in the first game of the 2012 NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Championships. As the game ended, Munger just started crying. She laughed when talking about it later.
“I was just so happy,” she said. “Throughout the whole game I said it’s not over until the buzzer rings. It’s not over. And once the buzzer went off and we won, I was just overwhelmed. I’ve never been in a situation like this.”
The situation is a national-championship matchup Saturday night against Illinois Wesleyan where the third-ranked Bruins hope to go 33-0 and complete an undefeated season. What’s more, they’re back on the same court at Hope College where George Fox won the 2009 title.
“I’m really excited,” Munger said. “I think since the beginning of last year we’ve been working to get to this point, with having Mike [second-year head coach Michael Meek] come in and starting new with everything. We’ve wanted this for so long. I’ve wanted this for so long, being a senior in high school and seeing them win it, when I decided to play on the team, there’s nothing I’ve wanted more.”
From the start, Amherst (31-1) put its best overall player, 6-0 senior Lem Atanga McCormick, on Munger. Bad idea, because she picked up her second foul 4:54 into the game. And then Munger, who had only two points at the time, basically went nuts.
“I took a little bit of time to get a feel for the game and get a feel for her as a player and her physicality,” Munger said. “That’s why our conference was good for us. It was so physical and I knew that if I was going to get anything done I was going to have to go right through her on my shots.”
Amherst tried a variety of players on her the rest of the way, but none were effective. At halftime, she had 16 points and four rebounds, scoring from the block and with a nifty hook and on putbacks. She was 6-for-6 from the line.
“She did a great job of attacking the basket and being aggressive and knocking down her free throws was helpful,” Meek said.
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“I was just playing,” Munger said. “Seriously, before the game, I prayed. I said, ‘Please let us win this. Please let me play well.’ I can’t really do it on my own. I need God’s help. Obviously he helped me a lot.”
Munger, George Fox’s all-time blocks leader, did not register one Friday, but certainly changed the trajectory or minds of the Amherst shooters.
“She’s a huge presence inside. You can’t deny that,” said All-American senior guard Caroline Stedman, who led the Lord Jeffs with 22 points on 8-for-22 shooting. “You go in there and see her big hands, you’re obviously going to take a second thought before you take the shot.”
“Yeah, you have to release the ball a little bit earlier just to get it over her,” added junior Marcia Voigt, who went 6 for 15 from the field.
Munger, 21, scored more points than any women’s college player ever had in Hope’s building and the most in this environment since Tasha Rodgers had 36 for Washington (Mo.) in the 2001 DIII title game.
Amherst coach GP Gromacki said it was the best performance he’d seen.
“Definitely. Definitely in my five years,” Gromacki said. “I mean she really just seemed like she scored at will. And she’s an average foul shooter but her stroke looked great and they were nothing but net.”
That wasn’t lost on her teammates, especially All-American senior guard Keisha Gordon, who had 12 points, nine rebounds and five steals.
“Tonight she came out strong,” Gordon said. “I mean, she played exactly the way we needed her to play. Every time it left her hand I said, ‘That’s probably in.’ I mean, it looked great. She kept her head when things weren’t exactly going our way or when they were playing great. Yeah, she played really well tonight.”
Munger has strong faith and lists in her bio an eclectic mix of religious, philosophical and spiritual authors. She has a hearty laugh and couldn’t be happier playing at a college just a couple of minutes from her Newburg, Ore., home. It’s a long way her, but George Fox had an enthusiastic group of about 75 fans on hand. That included her parents, and before the Bruins left the court, Munger went and hugged her shorter parents, 6-1 dad, Bill, and her mom, Carol.
No doubt they’re proud of their daughter, who will probably make quite a teacher. When she’s with the little kids, “I have to crouch a lot and kneel a lot.”
She laughed again.
“I got to take my second-grade class on a field trip to campus,” she beamed. “And we got to play some basketball. They loved it.”