By Seth J. Walker
The Lawrence Tech women’s basketball team recently capped a memorable 2017-18 season which included many milestones, and their second trip to the NAIA Division II National Tournament in three years.
Two years ago, the Lawrence Tech Blue Devils made their first trip to nationals, but it ended with a first round loss in head coach Mary Pinkowski was ejected. Then Kylene Spiegel replaced Pinkowski as head coach prior to last season and led the Blue Devils to a respectable 18-13 campaign; with a fourth place finish in the Wolverine Hoosier Athletic Conference (WHAC) and advancing to the WHAC semifinals. The biggest impact Spiegel made last season however was her development of forward Nicole Buckingham. Buckingham, by her own admission, was never an offensive player, even going to back to her days at Saginaw Nouvel Catholic Central High. Under, Spiegel, however, Buckingham became the Blue Devils leading scorer and an All-WHAC First Team selection as a sophomore.
The Blue Devils entered this season with a different feel from last season. They didn’t have to get to know Spiegel now, except, of course, for the freshman. Buckingham, now a junior, had become more comfortable in her role, despite remaining very humble. Junior guard Cherilyn Banas, had a year full year of experience as the starting point guard. Senior guard Hayley Walkowski, after lurking in the shadows as an unsung hero her first three years, was poised to make her last year her most impactful. Sophomore forward Danielle Hanson would enter the starting lineup. Finally, redshirt sophomore forward Rachel Price, a transfer from Tiffin University, would make her debut for Blue Devils.
The Blue Devils were picked sixth in the WHAC Preseason poll despite their fourth place finish last year. Throughout the season, the team used that as motivation to exceed those expectations while remaining level headed. They began their season with two wins in the LTU classic over Point Park and then No. 21 St. Francis. It would be their next game, though, which really gave the Blue Devils confidence.
The Blue Devils shocked the Detroit Mercy Titans, an NCAA Division I team, in an exhibition game at Calihan Hall. That was on November 3rd. By the end of the month, the Blue Devils were ranked 24th in the nation and remained in the top-25 poll the rest of the season, peaking at number 19.
Another highlight for the Blue Devils was their trip to West Palm Beach, Florida, just before the Christmas holidays. The team won both games over Keiser and Taylor. The Keiser win gave Spiegel a win over her mentor, Pam Oswald, who coached Spiegel at Tiffin.
By the end of the regular season, the Blue Devils, were 24-5 overall and 16-4 in the WHAC. Buckingham and Walkowski both scored their one thousandth career point during the season on their way to earning All-WHAC First Team honors, with Hanson making the All-WHAC Second Team and guard Teryn Kline making the All-WHAC Freshman Team. Walkowski also made the WHAC All-Defensive Team while Buckingham was an NAIA All-American Honorable Mention.
The Blue Devils beat Siena Heights in the WHAC quarterfinals before losing to eventual conference champion Cornerstone in the semifinals, but still gained an at-large bid to the national tournament. Unfortunately, they lost to Hastings in the first round, though Buckingham became the program’s all-time leading scorer. Price also now holds the program record for career blocks after just one season.
With Walkowski being the only departing senior, that means the rest of the team will be returning for next season with more experience and potentially more confidence. Sports Source Media will be here to provide coverage throughout the 2018-19 season. You heard it from me, Seth Walker.