Titans sweep WIAC tournament

The UW Oshkosh women’s basketball team advances to the NCAA Division III Championship tournament after a convincing victory over UW-Whitewater


Allie Russotto

UWO senior Isabella Samuels cuts her piece of the net after recording 10 points in the WIAC Championhip.

Ally Gwidt, Assistant Sports Editor

The UW Oshkosh women’s basketball team swept the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament to secure an automatic berth into the 64-team NCAA Division III Championship.

UWO entered the tournament on a first-round bye only to defeat UW-Stout 61-58 on Friday in the semifinal round and secure a spot against UW-Whitewater in the WIAC Championship Final.

The Titans commanded the Warhawks 69-40 in the final on Sunday to garner their seventh consecutive 20-win season and league-leading 13th WIAC regular season title.

This is the first time UWO has swept both the conference tournament and regular season championships since the WIAC postseason tournament debuted in 1999.

With the win, UWO snapped a six-game losing streak to the Warhawks and held UWW to its lowest scoring output since a 61-34 loss to UW-Eau Claire on Feb. 26, 2009.

The Titans opened Sunday’s matchup in fair contest with UWW, ending the first half with a mere five-point advantage, 29-24, over the Warhawks.

The Titans went on to outscore the Warhawks 20-5 in the third quarter and put together a 16-point, seven-minute run in the fourth to ensure yet another Titan victory.

UWO’s sophomore guard Leah Porath led all scorers with 16 points in 16 minutes off the bench. She shot seven-for-nine from the field and rallied four rebounds in her fourth double-digit scoring performance of the season.

The Titans recorded three other double-digit scoring efforts in sophomore guard Nikki Arneson with 14 points, senior center Isabella Samuels with 13 and senior forward Melanie Schneider with 12. Arneson also had a game-high five steals paired with clutch back-to-back three-point baskets early in the fourth to spark the Titans’ 16-point run.

UWO senior center Erin Vande Zande captained the Titan bench, which accounted for 26 points and 13 rebounds, with five rebounds and five points.

Vande Zande said the Titans’ relentless game plan of strong defense awarded their program yet another spot in the trophy case.

“Defense,” said the Oconomowoc native. “Defense is something we have prided ourselves on all season. We stuck to our game plan and executed it!”

Friday’s victory over the Blue Devils came as a result of a late Titan fourth-quarter rally.

The Titans entered the fourth up 47-42 but allowed the Blue Devils to gain a seven-point lead after a 16-4 run in the opening five minutes of the quarter.

UWO answered by holding UWS to 58 points the remainder of the game while tacking on 10 points of their own.

A Titan steal with eight seconds left to play forced the Blue Devils to send Arneson to the charity stripe where she went one-of-two to give UWO its final point of the night.

UWS gained the last possession of the game, but a missed three-point basket by Blue Devils’ senior center Amber Fabeck yielded the Titans the go-ahead to the championship final versus the Warhawks.

Schneider led eight Titan scorers with 13 points en route to her 19th career double-digit scoring effort in Friday’s contest. Samuels added on 10 points and four rebounds while junior guard Olivia Campbell recorded eight points and had a team-leading five rebounds, four assists and two steals for the Titans.

In her fourth and final year with the program, Schneider said this season’s success is a result of solid, all-round team chemistry.

“Teamwork,” Schneider said. “Everyone comes to practice every day and works hard to not only get better but to get each other better. We know our roles, and we all do our part to make our team as successful as it is.”

Head coach Brad Fischer, who has secured his fifth trip to the NCAA Championship in his seventh season with the program, backed Schneider and said that this year’s roster has excelled in maintaining their focus.

“We just stayed consistent,” Fischer said. “I don’t think we focused too much on winning a championship or doing too much with what we had. We just came every day and concentrated on getting better the next day. The girls did a great job of just taking it one day at a time, which isn’t always the easiest thing to do when you are the best team in the conference.”

UWO, which is ranked 14th in the nation by d3hoops.com, will face off against Pomona-Pitzer Colleges (Calif.) in the first round of NCAA D-III Championship on Friday at Kolf Sports Center.

Fischer said that despite the Titans’ dominance in the regular and postseason, UWO will need to rally together for one last go in the NCAA D-III tournament.

“At some point, [the season] will come to an end,” Fischer said. “Whether it comes to an end by cutting down a net or running into a better team, our goal is to play at our best. If someone can beat us playing our best, well, then they obviously have to be a really good team to do that.”