2004 National Champions
This is the story of the 2004 NCAA D-III National Championship Women's Basketball Team.
Cover STory National C hamps! Lady Quakers have `magical March' en route to title "They played like a team I always dreamed about." erry Scheve is a man of ritual and tending wins that reflected the poise and intensity alluded to details, and the occasion of the Lady to in Scheves message. Quakers "They played March 20 matchup like a team I always with Bowdoin Coldreamed about," lege for the NCAA said Scheve. His talDivision III national ented teams in 2002 championship was no and 2003 advanced exception. to the "Elite 8" and As he had before "Sweet 16" rounds each game for the past of the tournament 10 years, the coach but fell short of their wrote a message in grandiose goal of the locker room for winning the national the team to see before title. entering the basketball "Once we got in court. It simply stated, the playoffs, they "Play with the Poise raised their level and Intensity of a Naof play to what we tional Champion." always thought it His 2003-04 could be," he addwomens basketball ed. "They took us team took the sentithrough March on a ment to heart and manmagical run." ifested his mantra on If ever there was the court during a tria team that seized umphant tournament upon an opportunity, run that was nothing this was the one. less than thrilling. The Lady QuakThe Lady Quakers hadnt won a ers became the first close game all year Wilmington College while finishing the team to win a national regular season with championship when an 18-6 record. they captured the Ohio When Otterbein Athletic Conference College soundly deTournament title and feated WC in the roared through six next to last game of games of the NCAA Tara Rausch drives for the basket in the OAC title the regular season, Division III National game. The All-American was named "Final Four" the Lady Quakers Tournament with -- MVP. needed a win in the often heartstopping -- season finale to sim2 Spring/Summer 2004 By raNDy SarvIS J --CoaCh Jerry SCheve In the words of her coach, Amy Kincer "played like an AllAmerican throughout the playoffs." PHOTOs BY jOHn swarTzel and randY sarvis ply gain the number three seed in the OAC Tourney. "On the morning of the last regular season game, I sensed we were ready to achieve," Scheve recalled. "Looking in the players eyes, I saw a focus I hadnt seen this year. From that moment on, we played like a national championship team. I had confidence this team was going to do what it took to win every game." The coach stressed it wasnt only the seniors or the starters that raised their level of play. It was everyone associated with the team. "There wasnt just one reason -- there were 35 reasons: players, coaches, managers and trainers," he added. "Our success resulted from an accumulation of things done well. It took teamwork and un- selfishness to achieve what they did -- this team seized the opportunity." President Dan DiBiasio described the national title as something "rare and wonderful." "The greatest joy for all of us who are blessed to work with young people --whether it is in the classroom or on the court -- is to see them make the most of their God-given talents and do so with such passion and purpose," he said. "You made history at Wilmington College and you gave us great joy that will live on in our memories." The president said their accomplishment represents more than a triumph in the here and now. Indeed, the elements they mastered -- hard work, perseverance, tenacity, teamwork and focus -- are keys to their future successes. "Winning a national championship is a perfect ending to the season, but winning a championship is not an end, its a means for a much bigger end," DiBiasio said. "I hope youll apply the lessons of this championship season The LINK 3 Cover STory to your lives." The teams four seniors, Tara Rausch, Emily Cummins, Amy Kincer and Brittney Morris, were determined to make their mark on the program. They played integral roles in the Lady Quakers "Elite Eight" and "Sweet 16" tournament runs the previous two years, but 2003-04 was their year -- and this was their team. "Our seniors led this team to a national championship," Scheve said. "Everybody doubted us," Morris said. "We were here on a mission. We knew that, from the first day of school this year, we were going to the Final Four." Morris postseason was abruptly cut short when she tore an ACL in the semi-final game of the OAC Tournament -- but her leadership and contribution to the teams success were far from over. "I didnt want anybody to feel sorry for me, but I wanted to be out there on the court with them so bad," said Morris, who endured four knee surgeries in four years. "I wasnt named a captain this year, but I was a vocal leader and, after I was hurt, I knew I needed to become even more of one." She was selected to represent the Lady Quakers at the banquet held on the eve of the "Final Four" at which the University of Rochester (N.Y.), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, undefeated tournament favorite Bowdoin (Me.) College and Wilmington College were honored. Her remarks already have taken on a legendary aura. While other teams representatives congratulated their opponents for successful seasons and espoused other niceties incumbent to the occasion, Morris remarks were more edgy and motivational. She recognized the "blood, sweat and tears" of those past players who helped build Wilmingtons program into one that was only hours from playing for a national championship. "I said, We came here to beat you, but I said it in the nicest way possible," Morris recalled. "I wanted my teammates to know you dont have to have a perfect record (like Bowdoins) to have a perfect ending to your season. "We knew if we played hard and played smart that good things would happen," Morris added. "Its very special to be able to say, I won the last game of my career -- no other team in the National Tournament accomplished that!" Other players echoed those sentiments in the days and weeks following the title game. "Ive learned the true meaning of hard work and dedication," Cummins said. "Everything we worked for and dreamed of came true in winning Emily Cummins was sectional tourney MVP. Siobhan Zerilla will be the lone senior on next years team. a national championship." "At the beginning, I dont think anybody believed in us but us," Kincer said. "A thousand people have asked me how it feels to be a national champion -- its unexplainable." "A national championship is what we dream about as athletes," said freshman Sam Hood. "This year has been an unforgettable growing experience for me as a person and a basketball player." The shared experience of the long championship campaign coupled with their previous three years together constitute the ties that will bind the seniors with each other, their teammates, coaches and school for a lifetime. "You all hold a very special place in my heart," Morris said. "Thank you for giving me the best season and best friends anyone could ask for." "Through basketball, Ive found my best friends," added Kincer. The Lady Quakers national championship season truly is one for the ages. Scheve named National Coach of the Year PHOTOs BY jOHn swarTzel and randY sarvis 4 Spring/Summer 2004 Jerry Scheve's teams have won three consecutive OAC titles and made three straight National Tournament appearances. Head womens basketball coach Jerry Scheve was the recipient of four Coach of the Year honors in the aftermath of his Lady Quakers national championship season, including the countrys top coaching award. The Ohio Youth Sports Association named Scheve its 2004 Coach of the Year as did the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Womens Sports Association. In addition, D-III News selected WCs 14-year coach as the 2004 Molten/D-III News Coach of the Year and the Columbus Dispatch selected Scheve as the states most outstanding coach at all levels. Scheve led the Lady Quakers to "Elite 8" and "Sweet 16" appearances in the National Tournament in 2002 and 2003, respectively. The team also advanced in the tournament in 2000. WC has won three consecutive Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament titles. The coach has a record of 264 wins and 106 losses at WC. The LINK 5 Cover STory Team relished under dog role road to the `Final Four' awash in drama and hero ics he Lady Quakers were what Jerry Scheve described as "a mixture of a very young and very veteran" team. The chemical reaction resulting from that mixture was at times explosive and lethal to opponents. Other times it was languid and unfocused. Ultimately, it was the catalyst for a national championship. "It was an up and down season," the head coach recalled, noting the team finished the regular season at 18-6 -- with more losses than the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons combined. "We went through a few years where things went smoothly and we expected to do well in the tournament," he added. "This year, we were close to having an excellent regular season, but we had some struggles, especially in close games. It seemed every time we got things turned around, we lost another game." Just days before the start of the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament, the team blew its shot at another OAC regular season title and top seed in the tournament when Otterbein bounced them at home 79-69. The late season loss was cause for soul-searching and forced the team to dig deep for answers. "After the Otterbein game, I think they decided they didnt want to go out that way," Scheve said. "I think they realized their talent wasnt enough, that they had to be mentally tough. "In our last nine games, everyone in our program did what was needed for us to be successful," he added. "They played hard, played smart and played together with poise, intensity, and physical and mental toughness." As the number three-seeded team in the conference tournament, WC destroyed Muskingum 81-60 in the first round game. They then traveled to Columbus, where the Lady Quakers knocked off Capital 83-69, avenging a pair of regular season defeats at the hands of the Crusaders. Otterbeins upset of top-seeded BaldwinWallace in the other semifinal contest created a rematch with the Cardinals for the OAC championship and an automatic berth in the National Tournament. The Lady Quakers loss 10 days earlier was a distant memory as Wilmington 6 Spring/Summer 2004 T PHOTOs BY jOHn swarTzel trounced Otterbein by a convincing 73-54 margin. WCs third OAC Tournament title in as many years put the Lady Quakers right where they wanted to be, hosting Albion College in a first round game. The team found itself down by a dozen points with 14 minutes remaining against the fiesty Albion squad. "During a timeout, I looked in their eyes and saw somthing I hadnt seen: poise, confidence and determination," Scheve recalled. Wilmington went on to defeat Albion 66-62. They had an easier time in the second round when they downed Franklin College 75-60. That game turned out to be the exception rather than the rule, as the remaining four games were closely fought come-from-behind victories. Next, the team traveled to rival Thomas More College for the sectional tournament. Wilmington, which had been beaten by the Saints in their season opener, narrowly escaped in a 78-75 thriller. Senior Emily Cummins played the game of a lifetime putting in 26 points that included five for seven from behind the three-point arc. Seniors Amy Kincer and Tara Rausch and junior Siobhan Zerilla all had double-doubles. The next night, WC knocked off the University of Puget Sound (Wash.) 63-60, winning the Elite Eight and -- for the first time in College history -- advancing to a "Final Four." Cummins followed her stellar performance of the night before with 15 points that included the game-winning shot with 23 seconds to play. With starters Rausch and Zerilla in foul trouble, the Lady Quakers bench came through with 26 points and 16 rebounds, including a team-high 16 points from Erica Smith. Cummins was named sectional tournament MVP and was joined by Kincer on the All-Tournament team. The team flew to Virginia Beach for the "Final Four" tournament hosted at Virginia Wesleyan University. In the semifinals, 30-0 Bowdoin (Me.) College defeated Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Wilmington downed the University of Rochester (N.Y.) 74-63. Rochester led by as many as 10 points in both the first and second halves before Wilmington mounted another of its patented comebacks. Cummins led all scorers with 21 points while Kincer, Rausch and Zerilla netted 16, 15 and 13 points respectively. In the championship game against undefeated Bowdoin, Wilmington found itself down 28-23 at intermission, which prompted Scheve to tell his team, "Weve got them right where we want them." "We came out in the second half and knew we wouldnt lose the game," he added. The Lady Quakers were down by five points with 4:44 remaining and started a charge that culminated when Rausch completed a three-point play to tie the contest with 2:28 left. Freshman point guard Sam Hood, who held Bowdoins primary scoring threat to one shot and two turnovers in the games final eight minutes, hit a threepointer that sealed the win for Wilmington as the Lady Quakers went on to triumph 58-51. The unflappable freshman had 13 assists and only one turnover in the "Final Four" tourney. Rausch had a game high 19 points and was named "Final Four" MVP. Kincer joined her on the AllTournament team. In spite of their 27-6 final record, the national champions finished the season with a unanimous number one ranking in the USA Today/ESPN/ WBCA and D3Hoops.com national polls. Rausch, a First Team All-OAC selection, was a concensus First Team All-American and Scheve, who has a 264-106 record in 14 years at WC, was named the Molten/DIII News National Coach of the Year. The seniors finished their careers with a record 97 wins, three OAC Tournament titles, two regular season championships, "Sweet 16" and "Elite Eight" titles and the 2004 national championship. "They accomplished more than any other team at Wilmington College," Scheve said. "I think when its all said and done this is the best team I ever had." --By raNDy SarvIS Front Row: Amy Eichner, Amanda Jones, Shawna Thomas, Flor Chum, Sam Hood, Britni Lakas, Tiffani Glaser, Amy Kincer, Emily Cummins, Siobhan Zerilla,Tricia Erford and Brittney Morris Back Row: Scott Reule, Shari Stauffer, Bill Newland, John Van Benschoten, Kara Robinson, Katie Newman, Courtney Balser, Nicole Koenig, Tara Rausch, Erica Smith, Kelly Peters, Jenny Andrea, Chasity Poling, Jerry Scheve, Alyss Hart and Abby Newhouse. The LINK 7 Cover STory Victory tour travels from Atlantic Ocean to the Great American Ball Park he Atlantic Ocean off Virginia Beach By mayoral proclamation, David Raizk 72 conjurs idyllic images of summer va- declared March 29 "Celebration of Champions cations. In mid-March, when athletic Wilmington College Lady Quakers and Jerry director Terry Rupert took a plunge, the sea was Scheve Day." bone chilling to say the least. The national championship banner that now His dip before an audience of giddy Lady Quak- hangs in Fred Raizk Arena was unveiled, as was the ers was the payoff for friendly wager he made with sign that has been placed at the entrances to the city. members of the team, who, earlier that afternoon, The occasion also gave the team an opportunity won the NCAA Division III national champion- to recognize the support it received from its fans. ship. The glowing warmth of victory more than compensated for the 40-degree ocean. That days celebration was just the beginning as the Lady Quakers returned to Wilmington the next morning welcomed by a police escort through town and an enthusiastic reception at the College. A week later, the College hosted a "Celebration of Champions" at which the Lady The Lady Quakers gather around the championship banner. Quakers and national indoor high jump champion Emily Herring The sizable Wilmington contingents from games were honored. at WC through the "Final Four" in Virginia had a The team entered Fred Raizk Arena through a significant impact. Indeed, the enthusiastic Wilmwall of dry ice smoke and blaring music. Footage ington fans made the Lady Quakers the sentimental of the sectional and "Final Four" tournaments favorites for many "neutral" observers at the "Final appeared on a 20-foot screen before and after Four." the team was praised by speakers ranging from "The locals sort of adopted us," Rupert said. Rupert, coach Jerry Scheve and President Dan "We played five national tournament games on DiBiasio to the mayor, county commissioners and the road, but with our fans it felt like we were at state legislators. home those games," Scheve said. "Were brimming with pride for this superb "You made it a lot more fun and easier with your season," the president said. "You gave us a joy support," added senior Amy Kincer. that will live on in our memories." 8 Spring/Summer 2004 The Lady Quakers were honored at a Cincinnati Reds game in May. T PHOTOs BY randY sarvis "You are all a huge part of every victory," said tional title recently. senior Emily Cummins. DiBiasio, Scheve and senior Brittney Morris were In April, the Lady Quakers had a curtain call invited to speak at the occasion. in Columbus when the State Senate and Ohio The next stop on the teams victory tour was House of Representatives honored the team and May 6 at the Great American Ball Park when the Herring with ceremonies at the State Capital in team was honored by throwing out the ceremonial both houses of government. The student-athletes, first pitch for the Cincinnati Reds versus Milwaukee coaches and administrators were the guests of Rep. Brewers game. David Daniels (86th District) and Sen. John Carey The Lady Quakers stood along the first baseline (17th District). as their accomDaniels deplishments were clared it "Wilmtrumpeted to the ington College crowd. Scheves Champions Day." ceremonial first Carey compared pitch was a onethe womens stelhopper that freshlar season with the man Sam Hood famous story about snagged at the a team from a small plate. He claimed Indiana high school to have practiced that 50 years ago the pitch earlier won the state title. in the week. "The Lady --By raNDy Qaukers story SarvIS is one similar to Hoosiers in their accomplishments and the spirit they have," Carey said, noting Ohio State University isnt the only Ohio school to have won a naJerry Scheve throws the ceremonial first pitch. PHOTO BY Mark HuBer The LINK 9