Monday night was a big night in Union, N.J., as the Kean women finished off their regular season with their 24th consecutive win over D-III opposition. You just can't call them undefeated.
The Cougars' win Monday over the Rowan Profs, who currently sit right behind them in the southern division of the New Jersey Athletic Conference, wrapped up a perfect season in NJAC play and left them unbeaten in 24 D-III games. The lone loss on their schedule is from their season opener, an ambitiously scheduled meeting with D-I national power Rutgers. That was three months ago, and the Cougars haven't lost since.
Photo by Jeffrey Levy for D3sports.com
"We're not undefeated," coach Michele Sharp said. "We lost to Rutgers -- we still played the game, and we still lost. I've reminded them of that. We don't even talk about being undefeated, to be perfectly honest. They look at our record and they see 24-1. They see that loss, and they don't say, 'Oh, that was Rutgers, that doesn't count.' The kids stay focused and they know what to do."
At the moment, the Cougars are focused on staying atop the NJAC. They've won the conference title two of the last three years, and they're poised to do it again. And they have to be feeling confident now -- their blowout win over Rowan on Monday brought them to a spotless 14-0 in the conference.
"It's great for the university and for our program," Sharp said. "I don't know when the last time was that a team went undefeated in our conference, but it's been a long while. This is really great for the kids, and they deserve all the credit."
And it's not a one-woman effort. On the contrary -- the Cougars found a way to win on Monday night even when their leading scorer, senior Melissa Beyruti, shot 2-for-15 from the floor. They still managed a dominating team defensive effort in the second half, holding the Profs to 25 percent shooting after the break. They ended up waltzing away with a 76-55 win.
"We're a much more balanced and deeper team this year than we were last year," Sharp said. "I think that's why we're so much better. You look at Melissa, and she's scoring less than she was last season, but what's really changed is her selflessness -- she's giving up her own scoring for the betterment of her team."
"If you look at our game, there was a span in the second half where we turned the ball over and they were able to capitalize," said Rowan coach Gabby Lisella. "They're very opportunistic, and they have a lot of different people that can contribute. If you shut one of them down, there's someone else that can step up and hurt you, and I think that showed in our game."
These Kean players have learned how to win by banking years of experience. Sharp has five seniors on her roster, and three of them start. All of those kids know how to win a conference championship, because they've all done it twice before. Kean won the NJAC title in 2007, and again in '08, when the class of 2010 was first learning the ropes.
Last season, though, the Cougars came up short in their quest to win the NJAC. A loss to The College of New Jersey, 69-57 in the conference title game on Feb. 28, 2009, spelled the end of Kean's run as league champions. This year's senior class has now experienced the ups of winning and the downs up coming up short. They've been through it all.
"I think when you have those seniors and you have that leadership, they know what's expected of them and of the team to be successful," Sharp said. "So in that respect, it's very good. Three of them start, and they provide leadership, and calm, because they've been there before. They won a conference title twice, and they know what it took, but they also know what happened last year, and we've talked about that."
"I think they're a very strong team and they have been for several years," Lisella said of Kean. "This season, they seem to have probably more discipline and more focus than in the last couple years. They're extremely deep, and they're very athletic and very physical when they play. When you play a team like that, you need to play without making mistakes. I think they're a team that can create mistakes for you."
They've come a long way this season. And now, with the top seed in their conference tournament locked up, it's time for them to plan for the long grind that lies ahead. And it's not just about the NJAC anymore.
"Our goal is to win a championship," Sharp said. "I think that for us -- we've been to the Elite Eight twice before, but we want more than that. We want to win a national championship. And any of the top programs in the country are going to say the same thing. I think it's great to win a conference title, but we're going to look beyond that, too. As far as our team's potential and what we're capable of, it's really whatever they set their minds to."
Small's biggest catch
Ursinus coach Kevin Small has been blessed with a lot of standout players during his ten years in Collegeville. He had the Centennial Conference Player of the Year six consecutive years, including D3hoops.com All-Americans Dennis Stanton (2004), Mike McGarvey (2005 and 2006) and Nick Shattuck (2008). So when Small says current senior Remy Cousart is “the most important recruit in his program’s history,” that may come as a surprise.
It may also come as a surprise that the point guard will finish in the conference’s Top 10 all-time for rebounds (768 through Wednesday). Add that to Cousart’s 1,000-plus points and 500-plus assists – second only to McGarvey who is now an assistant coach at Ursinus – and you have one of the most unique career stat lines in conference history.
But even that may not be the most surprising part of Cousart’s story. There’s something else remarkable about the guard who helped lead his team to the national semifinals two years ago. Gordon Mann recently talked with him and his coach about his unique story. The interview is embedded below.
There's reason to celebrate in De Pere, Wis. -- for the first time in eight years, the Green Knights of St. Norbert have won the Midwest Conference.
This is a program that only recently endured three straight seasons of less than 10 wins -- 8-15 in 2005, 7-16 in 2006, 9-13 in 2007. Now they're dominating at 20-2. The future is obviously bright for the Knights, but no matter what happens from here, they're already champions.
"A lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears went to getting to this point," coach Gary Grzesk told the Green Bay Press-Gazette this week. "And even the players before the current ones have laid the foundation the last couple years. There's a lot of people that went into making this happen."
Most notably Grzesk himself. The young coach turned the St. Norbert program around when he took over in 2006, and it's impressive how quickly he's led them to MWC glory.
From day one, Grzesk had his staff and his players focused on one goal. It didn't take them long to reach it.
Greg Holzhueter never takes a break. From the moment he gets to campus at Martin Luther until the time baseball season ends in May, he has practice, for at least one sport. That's because he's the Knights' starting quarterback, starting point guard and starting shortstop, the leadoff hitter to boot.
Pat Coleman caught up with Holzhueter after the Knights' 69-59 win against Presentation on Saturday. The interview is embedded below.
Green gets the gold
Another day, another conference title clinched out in the Midwest -- the Illinois Wesleyan women, 79-40 winners over Augustana on Tuesday night, have earned at least a share of first place in the CCIW.
Showing why they're the No. 3 team in all the land, the Titans ended the first half with an 11-0 surge to put away the host Vikings early. Make it five consecutive wins and 23 out of 24 for Mia Smith's crew.
“I thought they looked really good,” Smith told The Pantagraph of Bloomington, Ill. “It was a very physical and aggressive game. We battled point for point for a while and finally took off.”
With the postseason not far off, they're peaking at the right time.
The Titans wrap up their season Saturday night at North Park.
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