DII women's basketball: Unity on and off the court has guided Ashland
When Ashland women’s basketball team arrived on campus in August, the Eagles had a goal, that on the surface, seemed particularly difficult to achieve.
A look at their 30-0 record heading into the championship game of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament Sunday afternoon against Grand Valley State gives evidence the Eagles are achieving whatever goal that they thought up last summer.
But this goal had nothing to do with success on the court. Senior guard Kelsey Peare, who earned a spot last season on the GLIAC All-Academic Excellence Team for having a GPA of 3.50 or higher, said the entire team has high standards when it comes to academics.
Their goal was to have a team GPA of 3.50 last semester.
“We have done an amazing job of that,” Peare said. “In the last semester, I think our team GPA was around 3.67.
“I believe that holds every one of us accountable in the classroom because we don’t want to let the team down.”
The way Peare answered a question on her making the All-Academic Excellence Team gives a glimpse into the type of person she is and the team chemistry that has lifted Ashland to be the only undefeated basketball team in Division II, women and men.
Ashland is coming off a fine season in which it went 31-2, but lost in the semifinals of the Midwest Regional. The Eagles returned eight players from that team and added four freshmen.
The mix of veterans and youthful exuberance, said second-year coach Robyn Fralick, has led to even better team chemistry this season.
“There has been a certain synergy about this team that has been really, really special,” Fralick said.
As one of three seniors on the team, Peare definitely plays a role in the Eagles having a tight bond on the court.
“Kelsey is an incredible teammate, worker, leader,” Fralick said. “She is really kind. Something that really stands out to me about Kelsey is her work ethic. She is really good at thinking of others.”
Peare, Alex Henning and Rachelle Morrison are having the type of season that every senior dreams about.
“This season has been so much fun,” Peare said. “Obviously, we are winning games, but I think the team camaraderie this year has been amazing. We really enjoy being around each other and playing together.
“Last season ended a lot sooner than we would have liked. I think that definitely encouraged us to work really hard in the offseason. That gave us a lot of determination to get better and come back this season and make it better than ever.”
The numbers the Eagles are putting up in the last six weeks are mind-numbing. They have won their last 11 games by double-digits. And in their last 16 games, they have scored over 100 points eight times.
“Our defense matches our offense,” Fralick said. “We play really aggressive defensively. We push everything, and we also have a lot of depth.
“We thought the two strengths of this team were our depth and athleticism. We had to figure out how do we maximize that. We press and do a lot of trapping in our defense and then play uptempo on offense which allows us to score. We also have a number of players who can score.”
Peare is one of the players who has improved her game offensively. As a freshman, she made only three 3-pointers in the entire season.
In Saturday’s 81-59 victory over Michigan Tech in the semifinals of the GLIAC Tournament, Peare made all three of her 3-point attempts and was 7-for-8 overall from the field for 17 points.
Peare attributes her improved shooting to what all the Eagles do in the summertime on their own. They all try to shoot 20,000 shots.
“This summer I focused a lot on my three-point shooting,” Peare said. “I want to help the team in whatever way. I am glad it is paying off and helping the team win.”
Those wins have turned into postseason games at home. After the GLIAC Tournament, it is highly likely Ashland will learn Sunday evening that it earned the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region and will be able to host. Selection for the NCAA Division II Tournament will be 10 p.m. ET Sunday and will be streamed on NCAA.com.
Fralick and Peare, though, weren’t thinking about regional rankings on Wednesday. Their focus was the game immediately in front of them and that was the semifinals of the GLIAC Tournament.
“We are looking forward to the NCAA Tournament, but obviously, we have the GLIAC Tournament to take care of,” Peare said. “We are very focused on taking it one game at a time and bringing our best to every game.”
It is that focus on the task at hand which has prevented the Eagles from feeling pressure to stay undefeated.
“We always say we have to stay in the huddle,” Fralick said. “When we do that, the focus is where our team is at and where our team needs to continue to grow.”
Peare is a great example of a player who has followed that philosophy. Fralick, who was an assistant coach at Ashland before becoming the head coach, has enjoyed watching Peare’s growth over the years.
“Her transformation on and off the court has been incredible,” Fralick said. “There isn’t a magic wand. She has put in the work. Beyond that, over her whole career, she has made hustle plays. She is a reliable defender and an excellent passer. Those things she really improved on.
“Her development as a player has really been one of the most unbelievable I have seen in my coaching career.”
For Peare, the next couple of weeks couldn’t be any better, calling the postseason the most wonderful time of the year. She is playing in important basketball games with a group of players she enjoys being around and at a school she loves.
“I believe being a student-athlete has made me a well-rounded person,” said Peare, who is majoring in psychology and will attend graduate school next year. “I have learned how to succeed on the court, in the classroom and in the community. I am so thankful I was able to spend four years at Ashland.”
Alaska Anchorage another motivated team
Alaska Anchorage improved to 29-1 after a 79-71 victory over Western Washington Saturday afternoon in the championship game of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Tournament.
It was the third straight conference tournament title for the Seawolves. Alaska Anchorage has now won a school-record 25 straight games since its only loss against Division I Portland on Nov. 22.
Last year the Seawolves went 38-3. They played in the Division II national championship game and lost 78-73 to Lubbock Christian. Their 38 wins were the most in Division II women’s basketball history.