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  • Emma Hurley

NAIA Women's Update: Early Season Upsets

Anything can happen in NAIA women’s basketball. November and December certainly had some interesting upsets. Now that we’re about halfway through the 2022-23 season, take a look back at a few of these underdog victories.

November 16 - Webber International University vs. Rollins College

Webber International vs. Rollins. NAIA vs. DII. Who will win?

You might guess the DII Rollins Tars over the NAIA Webber International Warriors any day. Wrong. Never judge a team by their division. (That’s a saying… right?)

Webber jumped out of the gate with a 10-2 lead in the first five minutes. It gave them enough momentum to build that up to a 19 point margin by the beginning of the third quarter.

In the fourth, with just five minutes left, Webber International thought it was over, leading 57-40. However, the Tars held the Warriors scoreless during a 7 point run. It brought them a bit closer, 57-47, but it just wasn’t enough.

Sophomore Jaida Burgess led the Warriors with 11 points. This was actually one of her lower-scoring turnouts (if you can even call it that), as she averaged 15 PPG in the previous four games. In fact, she had 20 points in their first game of the season against William Carey.

Alexandria Lemmon, Jermasia Klopsis, and Dasia Wandick each put up 9 points. Russell Jacob grabbed 6 rebounds and 4 steals.

The Warriors’ team shrank from 24 players last season to just 11 in 2022, giving Lemmon (a senior) more minutes on the court. Sophomore transfer Klopsis also sees much playing time and already has a key role on the team.

November 17 - Wayland Baptist vs. University of North Texas-Dallas

In the Sooner Athletic Conference season opener, the UNT Dallas Trailblazers defeated the three-year Sooner Athletic Conference champs, the Flying Queens, with a score of 70-62.

Last season, UNT Dallas finished tenth in the SAC with an overall record of 12-18. This shocking win seems to have given the Trailblazers a much-needed boost for the the season as they are currently 8-2.

The win was partly due to the return of graduate student Delyssa Miller, who grabbed 9 rebounds, and junior Zyunn Cormier, who added a whopping 32 points. Cormier averaged 11 last season but has nearly doubled that this year.

UNT Dallas blazed their way to the lead at the very beginning and maintained it for most of the entire game. With the help of Taryn Shultz and Kynnan Shields, Wayland flew to a tie in the third quarter. This was followed by a seven-point run by UNT Dallas. Wayland’s Kaityln Edgemon scored a few points at the end of the game but could not catch up as the Trailblazers finished with a lay-up and two free throws.

November 19 - Siena Heights University vs. University of Northwestern Ohio

The Northwestern Ohio Racers surprised everyone with their win over the Siena Heights Saints, destroying the Saints’ undefeated record of 5-0. The Racers won 81-70 in double overtime.

Last year, Siena Heights held a 24-8 overall (15-5 conference) record and finished third in the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference. On the other hand, Northwestern Ohio finished the 2021-22 season 3-22 overall (1-19 in the conference) and last in the WHAC.

This year, it’s already looking better for the Racers. Going into this game, they were 2-3 after two unfortunate but close losses in a row. This game put them at 3-3 and they are sitting at 7-4 heading into their 12/30 match up with Spring Arbour.

“We faced adversity during stretches of the game and still found a way to win against the very talented and well coached Siena Heights team who is one of the favorites to win our league this year,” Head Coach Matt Vavro said.

For the first three quarters, Siena Heights mostly held onto a strong lead, at one point up 23-16 at the end of the first quarter. The second period was low scoring and the third was back and forth, but the Saints had a 51-40 lead going into the final frame.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Northwestern Ohio raced on a 21-8 run. Sophomore Marta Gateva and senior Jada Haines then added four final points. They tied the game with seconds left…

… Overtime.

The lead jumped back and forth, but Siena Heights’ Sha’kyia Parker eventually tied it up once again with a pair of free throws…

… Double overtime.

After the Saints took a lead of just two points, the Racers went on a 9-0 run and finished it off with two free throws to end the game. Coach Vavro credits their strong defense towards the end for this last-minute surge.

Truly working as a team, every player in the game scored. Haines had a season high of 30 points, making six of eight vital free throws for Northwestern Ohio and playing 50 minutes. She has immensely stepped up from her role as a junior, where she averaged 24 minutes and just over 7 points per game.

Sophomore transfer Ana Montero Sanz had a personal career high of 17 points and led the team in assists with 5. Freshman Alysia Lawson had 11 points and 8 rebounds, and senior Kalea Kruser led in rebounds with 12.

12/3 - Southeastern Florida University vs. Warner University

According to Head Coach Nikki Jessee, this win for Warner was “kinda the David and Goliath of the NAIA.”

It seemed like the victory was going to be in the bag for the Southeastern Florida Fire with a 5-4 record.

“We have zero full scholarships and a very small budget compared to Southeastern who is fully funded, has an incredible budget, and flies to every tournament,” Coach Jessee noted.

Aside from that, the Fire was predicted to win by at least 16 points. They were also coming off a pair of victories, the first against Georgetown College and the more recent against Webber International.

Though Warner outscored Southeastern in the first period, the Fire blazed ahead in the second quarter, finishing the half at 35-28. The Royals shot a remarkable 80% from the free throw line which helped them extinguish the Fire’s leads throughout the game.

In her second-highest-scoring game of the season, Chanelle McDonald led the Royals with 22 points. This was expected with McDonald’s team-high PPG average, despite only being a sophomore. Her fellow sophomore Jasmine Edwards had 14 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists. Most importantly, Edwards hit the game-winning shot with a fraction of a second left on the clock, giving the Royals their final two-point lead.

Coach Jessee said, “There was no reason we should have beaten them, but we have an incredible group of young women who just refuse to quit or be defeated.”

12/10 - Arkansas Baptist College vs. Lyon College

After a tough last season, finishing with a 0-14 record and in second to last place in the Continental Athletic Conference, the Arkansas Baptist Buffaloes needed a morale boost for 2022-23. Facing the Lyon Fighting Scots, who had a 27-6 overall record and finished first in the American Midwest Conference last year, it wasn’t looking to be an easy victory.

The Scots had a strong start and were able to outscore the Buffaloes 18-15 in the first quarter and 20-12 in the second. Arkansas Baptist picked up speed in the second half to comeback from the double digit deficit.

Arkansas Baptist Head Coach Marlow Rockwell explained, “We sped them up with pressure and traps which made them uncomfortable, and it worked to our advantage.”

They were able to tie the game at 64 points, then 67, and then 71 in the last few minutes. Finally, with just two seconds remaining, the Buffaloes made one final jumper to win.

“This was the first big win for our program and gave our young ladies some momentum going into the second half of the season,” said Coach Rockwell.

Sophomore Jessica Nerestant led with 13 points. A new addition to the team, she is already one of the top scorers and the leading rebounder. Sophomore Celebria Peacock and freshman Ariel Jefferson also each added 12 points.

12/16 - Aquinas College vs. Florida National University

Aquinas College was coming off a win as they stepped onto the court for their game against Florida National. With no history between the teams, no one knew quite what to expect. Well, some expected Aquinas College to win, and by at least 14 points.

The Florida National Conquistadors had a 7-14 record last season, and then going into this game, had a 4-5 record. What’s different for Florida National in 2022-23?

“We have a lot of new faces,” explained Head Coach Yahveh Silva. “We have been changing the culture of the program little by little, and the returners are accepting the challenge and helping the newcomers transition from high school or different cities and countries.”

One newcomer is sophomore Natalie Larranaga from Guatemala City. She certainly has made her mark this season and seems to fit right into the squad. This game, she had 16 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and three steals.

Another “new face” is freshman Kaylee Llanos, who had 14 points. The only freshman starter, she already is a major scorer on the team and should continue to step up to higher roles the rest of the season and the next few years.

The Conquistadors took over from the beginning and shot 57.1% from the field in the second half. Though they kept the lead, Aquinas began to catch up. The Saints tied the game in the final ten minutes. Thanks to some last minute points by Llanos, the Conquistadors won 57-54.

Coach Silva also shared the key to winning upsets like these: “It was the collective work; we had moments when we didn’t score the open shots, but I think the patience and decision making from players like our point guard helped us take the win. We know Aquinas College is a good team so we have to respect every possession to make it happen in the end.”


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