The Mount Vernon Nazarene College womenís basketball team recently wrapped up a successful season under the guidance of first-year head coach Steve Gregory as the Lady Cougars posted a 16-14 overall record for the programís first back-to-back winning seasons in ten years.
MVNC began the season by beating Bethel (IN) College and Taylor (IN) University to win the Lady Cougarsí own Tip-off Tournament as junior guard Shelly Aldrich was the tournamentís Most Valuable Player and junior guards Anne Nussbaum and Holly Riggle joined Aldrich on the All-Tournament Team.
The team went on to win seven of its next 13 games as MVNC improved its overall record to 9-6 with all but one of the losses coming to NAIA nationally-ranked opponents as the Lady Cougars played perhaps the toughest schedule in the programís history.
After the good start, injuries caught up with MVNC as the team played the next seven games with just nine or ten healthy players and lost all but one contest during that span as the Lady Cougarsí record slipped to 10-12. Aldrich was forced to miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury as she finished with an 11.3 points per game average.
However, with its roster finally back intact, MVNC put together a three-game winning streak to close the regular season at 13-12 overall. The Lady Cougars just missed out on making the American Mideast Conference Tournament with a 6-10 conference mark against rugged competition. Three AMC teams qualified for the NAIA Division I or II national tournaments, and Shawnee State University became the second straight conference team to play in the NAIA Division II championship game.
"My team went through a lot of adversity this season and it proved fruitful in the end," said Gregory. "By the middle of the season, injuries had taken their toll and left us with a very limited bench which enabled some other players to step up and get some playing time that they probably would not have gotten. I think that it made us a much deeper team once we got some of our other players back off the injured list."
Following a ten-day layoff, MVNC focused its attention on the National Christian College Athletic Association East Region Tournament. The Lady Cougars posted a 71-59 victory at second-seeded Nyack (NY) College in the semifinals and then upset top-seeded Roberts Wesleyan (NY) College 78-74 on the Lady Raidersí home floor in the NCCAA East Region championship game.
Having qualified for the NCCAA National Tournament for the second straight year, MVNC traveled to Oakland City (IN) University for the eight-team event. The fourth-seeded Lady Cougars defeated fifth-seeded Indiana Wesleyan University 80-77 in the tournamentís first round to extend the teamís winning streak to six games - the programís longest winning streak in five years.
In the semifinals of the NCCAA National Tournament, MVNC dropped a hard-fought 77-67 decision to top-seeded and eventual national champion Lee (TN) University. The Lady Cougars then fell 85-73 to third-seeded Bethel (IN) College in the third place game as MVNC finished fourth for the second straight year.
"By seasonís end, we were playing our best basketball as evidenced by our six-game winning streak and our NCCAA East Region title," Gregory said. "We came up a little short in the NCCAA National Tournament, but what an awesome accomplishment for this group. I am proud of each and every individual for the sacrifices that they have made this season and the hard work that they put in for six months to make this a year to remember."
"I am very proud of my team and the way that they responded to a whole new regime in 1998-1999," added Gregory. "For our two seniors (Tara Seiter and Marlo Oyster), this is the third time in four years that they have had to adapt to a new coach and new system. My only regret with this senior class is that I do not have three more years with them. Tara and Marlo have been the cornerstones on which this program was built and both will be missed. I was blessed with two great senior leaders this season."
Individually, Seiter, a center, wrapped up her stellar career by becoming the Lady Cougarsí career leader in scoring (1718 points) and rebounding (952 rebounds) as she was selected to the AMC First Team, the NCCAA East Region First Team, and the NCCAA All-American First Team. Seiter led MVNC in scoring (18.7 points per game) and rebounding (9.2 boards per game) while shooting 54 percent from the field.
"Tara is our all-time scoring and rebounding leader and has left an incredible footprint on MVNCís record books over the past four years," Gregory said. "She is a great player but an even more impressive person."
Nussbaum, a member of the NCCAA East Region Second Team and an Honorable Mention All-AMC selection, dished out a career-high 122 assists (the third highest single-season total in the programís history) while averaging 10.3 points per game and nailing 48 treys.
Sophomore guard Deanna Kilpatrick contributed 10.7 points per game and led the team with 63 three-pointers while shooting 33.7 percent from beyond the arc. She also grabbed 5.7 rebounds per game and led the team with 35 blocked shots.
Junior forward Amie Bibby (9.7 ppg and 6.7 rpg) and freshman forward Angie Trainer (9.8 ppg and 75.2 percent free throw shooter) rounded out the starting lineup. Trainer was named to the five-player AMC All-Freshmen Team for her efforts in her rookie season. Meanwhile, Riggle contributed 7.6 points per game off the bench and as a part-time starter.
With all but one starter returning from this yearís squad, the future looks bright for Gregory and the Lady Cougar basketball program.