Women’s Basketball: Northwest Conference Tournament Champions
Reported by Morgan Stewart
On Thursday, February 21, the George Fox University (GFU) Women’s Basketball team won against Linfield 76-49.
Before the starting tip off, GFU players Emily Spencer, Lillie Abramson, Hailey Hartney, Haylee Hutzler, and Kylin Collman peeled themselves away from the team huddle and took to the court. Students in Bruin gear sat in the front rows of the bleachers, clutching and waving large face cutouts of individual players. The crowd had never been bigger that season.
The game was NCAA semi-finals. Despite losing in the past to the George Fox Bruins, 95-61, the Linfield Wildcats were just as hungry for the chance to reach the finals.
Linfield gained possession first, with Kory Oleson tipping the ball to her teammates in the back, winning it over Hutzler. They scored first, sinking a 2-pointer within the first minute of the game. As rocky of a start as the game was for GFU, Linfield made only six points before their lucky streak started to unravel.
As soon as the Bruins’ Madison Hull swished the tying basket within six minutes of the first quarter, the Wildcats folded. It became GFU’s game. Shortly after, GFU pulled ahead, thanks to Hutzler’s foul shot.
The Bruins finished the first quarter 21-8 and never looked back, continually shutting down the Wildcats’ advances with impeccable defense, high court pressing as soon as they scored or whenever Linfield gained possession on the sidelines. In contrast, the Wildcats often allowed their opponents to dribble across the half court line unguarded, sometimes sending just one defensive player forward to pressure the ball. The Wildcats just didn’t have the same energy as the Bruins, and it hurt them tremendously.
The Bruins also racked up numerous steals and jump balls, players scrapping and writhing on the ground to obtain possession. When Linfield’s point guard sped down the court, two to three GFU players moved to block her way, seamlessly and effectively blocking any passing routes.
Only two minutes into the second quarter, a Linfield player slammed the ball down in what appeared to be frustration.
At the end of the half, the Bruins had secured a 37-23 lead. As the victors became even more apparent, the GFU student section grew louder.
During the third quarter, Haley Strowbridge tried for 3-pointer. A few students rose from their seats as the ball soared through the air, cheering when it dropped into the net. Another standing ovation came in the last minutes of the fourth, when Hull reached up and clean blocked her opponent’s shot just before the release. At the buzzer, the scoreboard read 76-49.
Their real challenge, though, was the final game on Saturday evening.
“We’ve got a really tough opponent in Whitman and they’ve already beat us here on our own court, so we know it’s going to be a tough game,” said Head Coach Michael Meek before the game.
He said the team’s secret weapon was their dedication and team-first mindset.
“This team is really special … [because of] their work ethic and the way they care about each other,” said Meek.
“This team’s done a great job of … worrying about only things they can control [and] sharing each other’s successes,” he said. “And when a player makes a play on the court, it’s like the whole team has made it, not just that player. I think that’s what successful program do…”
Bradley Neuhoff, a George Fox professor and one of the people who runs the women’s basketball livestream, agreed.
“They don’t have superstars, they have a team,” Neuhoff said.
Their connectedness ultimately won them the Northwest Conference Tournament against Whitman 66-52 on Saturday. It was the 13th championship in George Fox Women’s Basketball history.