|Washington U. has two wins over teams currently in the Top 25, including a road win at No. 10 Wartburg during the holiday break.
Photo by Steve Frommel, d3photography.com
Washington U. has been among the most consistent teams in all of college basketball over the last 30 years under head coach Nancy Fahey, and the Bears have gotten off to a solid start again this season.
With Fahey in charge since 1986-87, Wash. U. has won the UAA title 22 times, and the Bears have never finished worse than third in the conference. In that 30-year span, Washington won five national titles and reached the Final Four a NCAA Division III-record 10 times.
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This year, Wash. U. won its first 10 games before dropping a game to Chicago on the road, followed by a convincing win over Millikin to put the Bears at 11-1.
“Prior to the year, as a coach, I was excited about this team,” Fahey said. “We have a good starting group and good support around them.”
If you look at the Bear's stat sheet, the team does not have one dominant player. Senior Jenn Dynis leads the team with 11.7 points per game, followed by senior Zoe Vernon and sophomore Madeline Homoly, who both average 10.6 points.
“It’s not something a coach plans, but it’s something that evolves,” Fahey said. “We’ve been sharing the ball a lot, so it feels like in different games, there’s plenty of offensive punch, but it just comes from different places game to game.”
Washington has shown incredible depth with seven players averaging at least 6.8 points per game. The Bears have nine players in their rotation that average double-digit minutes.
“When you head into the last two months of the season, players’ bodies are in a situation where depth helps at this time,” Fahey said. “I feel comfortable going to my bench. Practices have been competitive, and that’s where you want to be at this time of year.”
One major key to Washington’s success this season has been taking care of the ball. As of January 10, Washington is ranked No. 4 in the country with a 1.44 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Fahey said during the scrimmage portion of practices, she uses a chart that shows her players how many turnovers they’ve committed.
“In practice, we have a turnover bulletin board, and when we have too many, there are ramifications,” Fahey said. “We take pride in moving the ball, we execute that in practices.”
Fahey said the five national title teams she coached included a few specific criteria.
“Two things were the competitiveness of not being afraid to push yourself and teammates everyday no matter the success,” Fahey said. “Championship teams have to have a certain skill set, and the final thing is off-court chemistry. They like each other, and that will show up no matter the talent level.”
Fahey acknowledged that to win a national championship, it takes a significant amount of fortune.
“There’s a lot of luck involved,” Fahey said. “A lot of teams that have won had a lot of similarities to teams that did not win, and one bounce of the ball can change the whole game.”
Fahey said this year’s team has some similarities to a few of her title teams.
“Are there similarities?” Fahey said. “Yes, but we’ve got a long way to go with 13 UAA games to go, and that’s when it’s going to be tough. The conference is really tough, so we have a lot of respect for every team. We just have to stay focused.”
If Wash. U. gets all the right bounces, Fahey said she is hopeful to win her sixth national title.
“You state your overall goals at the beginning of the year,” Fahey said. “Everybody wants to win their last game, and we’re no different.”
In Monday’s rankings update, eight teams from the Central region made up the most recent men’s top 25 polls. Three of them come from the WIAC. UW-River Falls moved up 10 spots from No. 17 to No. 7, and UW-Whitewater dropped from 11th to 21st. UW-Eau Claire fell from seventh to 10th.
From the CCIW, Illinois Wesleyan was the lone team from the region to enter the top 25 after previously being unranked, as the Titans come in at No. 22. North Park fell from 10th to 18th.
St. Norbert was the only representative from the MWC and jumped from 12th to 9th, and the NACC’s Benedictine moved up to No. 14 from No. 16. Washington U. jumped to No. 20 from No. 24 from the UAA.
On the women’s side, even though Washington U. dropped four spots, the Bears are still the top-ranked team from the central region in the top 25 at No. 9.
In the WIAC, UW Oshkosh remained at No. 13, and UW-Whitewater stayed at No. 21.
Wheaton (Ill.) of the CCIW went from 23rd to out of the top 25 following its loss to Illinois Wesleyan.
Check these out
#20 Washington U. @ #3 Rochester (MBB) – Sunday, Jan. 15 – This should be a big one between two of the top teams in the UAA. Washington U. has rebounded from losing three of four games by winning three in a row, while Rochester remains unbeaten at 12-0.
#9 Washington U. @ #23 Rochester (WBB) – Sunday, Jan. 15 – Following the men’s game, fans will get another big game in the UAA. After losing its first game to Chicago, Washington U. got back on the winning track against Millikin, while Rochester has been hot winning four straight.
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