Having run the table in the regular season, the Southwestern College women’s team will try to take another step forward in Saturday’s KCAC Tournament semifinal against Kansas Wesleyan at 2:30 p.m. in Winfield.
A victory would put the Moundbuilders (27-3, 18-0 KCAC), ranked eighth nationally, into Monday’s final at Hartman Arena against the Tabor-Friends winner.
Southwestern, which has six seniors on its roster, will hope that experience can help the Moundbuilders successfully defend their KCAC Tournament title.
“This is the all-time winningest class at Southwestern,” coach David Denly said of the seniors. “They have been in four straight national tournaments, which has never been done. Last year, they won the first-ever conference tournament championship, and this year they won their first-ever regular-season championship.”
The ranking and the successful regular season have only increased the size of the target on Southwestern’s back, Denly said.
“We’ve had that on our back all year,” he said. “We’ve taken everyone’s best shot, and we’re ready to do it one more time.”
Even though Kansas Wesleyan (16-14, 10-8) is the lower seed, the Coyotes have given Southwestern fits in the two regular-season meetings. The Moundbuilders prevailed in Salina, 61-55, and won the return match in Winfield, 72-68.
“Both games went down to the final minute and were good games,” Denly said. “We didn’t shoot the ball well at their place, and at our place we were behind and had to make a little spurt to get ahead and win.”
Rebounding better and increasing the tempo will be a key, especially in a third matchup, Denly said.
“We don’t want that (score) in the 50s or 60s,” he said. “If we can get it in the 70s, I think we can control it.”
Part of Southwestern’s senior class has some area ties. Andover Central graduate Kaitlyn Tennyson had started for Denly up until this season and now serves as the first player off the bench and as a a defensive specialist.
“Her competitiveness and being a natural-born winner from her championships in high school have been important for us,” he said. “She helped turn this program around.”
Two other area athletes play key roles for Southwestern. Senior Sheri Zoglmann from Conway Springs and sophomore Jana Reichenberger from Bishop Carroll are starters.
The 6-foot Reichenberger is the Moundbuilders’ leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, averaging 9.3 points and 6.8 rebounds. She has also gotten some notice, being selected All-KCAC for two years.
“She’s a good force for us inside, maintaining the inside game,” Denly said.
Zoglmann is Southwestern’s fifth-leading scorer (8.1).
In fact, Southwestern has only one scorer averaging in double figures, sophomore guard Jessica Hobbs (12.2 ppg), who was a unanimous first-team all-league selection.
“She’s our shooting guard and a very consistent three-point shooter,” Denly said.
Such balance can make it difficult for opponents to key on one or two players, which opens it up for others, Denly said.
“(Wednesday) night, in our game against McPherson (a 71-57 triumph), Jessica’s twin sister Jordan was our leading scorer,” he said.
Jordan is the Moundbuilders’ third-leading scorer at 8.3 points.
“It’s a nice treat for a coach to have that kind of balance,” Denly said.