For the third game in a row, the CSU-Pueblo ThunderWolves did what only they knew they could do…upset a team that they hadn’t beaten all year.
After traveling to Grand Junction and knocking off the favored Mesa State Mavericks, and then stunning the ninth-ranked Fort Lewis Skyhawks, the Pack parlayed the momentum into an RMAC Shootout Championship with a win over the Nebraska-Kearney Lopers, 70-54.
“I don’t think people understand how hard it is to win this thing. To win three games in nine days, boy that’s tough. I’m just so proud of our players right now,” Pack head coach Kip Drown said after the game.
“After Mesa, we just kind of had the feeling that victory is so sweet, so sweet,” senior, Mary Rehfeld said.
To find the key to the Pack win, look no further than their stifling defense.
“It’s just that time of the year when we’ve put all our eggs in the defensive basket,” Coach Drown said before the game.
For only the second time this year, the Lopers were held to under 55 points in a game. The 54 points on just 28 percent shooting, was well below the 75 point average the Lopers boast.
“Every defensive possession we played tonight was just all out to get a stop,” Rehfeld said.
The only demise for the Pack defense had more to do with the offensive rebounding skills of the Lopers.
“Kearney just pounds the glass so tough, and their kids are just so relentless,” Coach Drown said before the game.
The Lopers bring down just over 40 rebounds per game. On Saturday they had 32…on the offensive glass alone, while pulling down a total of 55.
“It wasn’t for a lack of effort, we were battling in there,” Coach Drown said. “Kearney just rebounds like their possessed. I don’t know if I’ve every played against a group that just pounds and pounds and pounds at you like they did.”
The Pack got out to a fast start, led by Lindsay Black, who had four points, four rebounds, and an assist in the first four minutes of the game.
“We were just so fired up in the locker room. I was just feeding off of everyone else’s energy,” Black said.
After falling behind by as much as six in the first half, the Pack flipped their offensive switch. Rehfeld tied the game at 20 with a 3-pointer, then senior Kaylon Miller put the Pack ahead with a three bomb of her own. The ThunderWolves would never relinquish the lead.
The Lopers were held silent from the field for the last 4:32 of the first half, which gave the Pack time to inflate their lead. They did just that. A steal and assist by Kami Dahlberg led to a Rachel Espinoza lay-up to put the Pack up 11 going into the break.
The Lopers could only pull to within seven points in the second half after an Amy Mathis 3-pointer, but not for long as Rehfeld responded quickly with her own drained 3-point shot.
The game high scorer was Black who had 17 points to go along with her nine rebounds, five blocks, and three assists. Rehfeld was right behind her in the points category with 16, and true freshmen Espinoza had a solid 12 points coming off the bench.
Coincidently, those three players were the three selections for the all-tourney team. Black was also named MVP of the tournament.
“Being recognized individually is an honor, but we’re definitely team focused. I’d rather get the win, than get any award. My teammates helped me every single step of the way,” Black humbly said.
The ThunderWolves, with the win, get an automatic bid into the NCAA Division II national tournament. They will find out on Sunday, where they will go, and who they will play. Coach Drown said he expects to go to South Dakota, and play the home team.
“After what we’ve gone through the past nine days, I don’t think it’s going to phase us a bit. I think we’re going to walk in there and were just going to play and get after it. We’ll let the marbles fall where they may,” Coach Drown said.