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The Antelope

Women fall in MIAA semifinals: Lady Lopers qualify for 14th NCAA Tournament in program history

KOSUKE YOSHII / ANTELOPE STAFF Sophomore guard Trinity Law averages 8.4 points per game for the Lopers.

The UNK women’s basketball team qualified for the NCAA Division II National Tournament after competing in the MIAA tournament this weekend in Kansas City. The defending MIAA-Champion Lopers entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed and took care of business against sixth-seeded Northwest Missouri State 52-47 before eventually falling to second-seeded Fort Hays State 56-46.

The Lopers played well to open the game against Northwest Missouri on Friday as they outscored the Bearcats 13-2 in the first quarter. The two teams played just a week earlier on Feb. 23 and the familiarity helped the Lopers early on.

“I think for our players it was very fresh in their minds what the scout was,” said UNK coach Carrie Eighmey. “Our kids always do a really, really good job with the attention to detail with the scout, but I thought especially today they were really on point and gave lots of effort defensively in getting stops.”

UNK entered the third quarter up 44-27 but was outscored by Northwest Missouri 20-8 in the fourth quarter. Although the Bearcats were making a run, the Lopers stayed composed with their lead.

“I think this team has a lot of trust,” said forward Klaire Kirsch. “In those late clock moments, I think nobody is too real worked up about what’s gonna happen next. We have some players who can make some big plays.”

The Lopers had a balanced scoring attack, with six different players scoring between six and 10 points. Trinity Law led the team with 10. Elisa Backes, Haley Simental and Shiloh McCool each scored nine. 

“Our team is really unique in the fact that there’s not typically one single person that we go to every single game to score those points for us,” Kirsch said. “I think that makes our entire team a threat in that aspect.”

The Lopers lost to Fort Hays State on Saturday who entered the weekend at No. 1 in the central region rankings for the NCAA Tournament. Although Fort Hays has been up at the top, the two teams split the regular-season matchups and both match up evenly with each other. 

After leading after the first quarter 17-14, the Lopers went cold in the second as they trailed by six at the half.

“The second quarter we struggled,” Eighmey said. “It was a tough quarter for us. We got in a little foul trouble. We got out of rhythm. We had some people playing out of position. We kind of stalled out offensively. That was the difference in the game was that second quarter.”

The struggles continued into the third quarter as the Lopers found themselves down by 15. UNK battled through it and eventually cut the lead down to three with 8:37 left. 

“I thought we showed a lot of toughness in the third and fourth quarter,” Eighmey said. “There were a couple of pretty long stretches that I felt like we were able to just keep getting stops.”

Three points was as close as the Lopers would ever get as Northwest Missouri State was able to finish the game out to win by 10. 

Sarah Schmitt led the team with eight points. Backes and Kirsch followed up with seven points each. 

Kirsch broke the school career rebounding record against the Tigers. Kirsch recorded her 907th rebound surpassing a record previously held by Heather Steffen.

“She’s a beast,” Backes said. “You don’t want to go after Klaire after a rebound. That’s her ball. We love that about her. She does those little things that don’t always get recognized, but she’s a real tough gritty player.”

Fort Hays went on to defeat Missouri Southern in the MIAA Championship 48-42 and received the No. 1 seed in the central region of the NCAA Tournament. UNK received the sixth seed in the central region and will take on third-seeded Minnesota Duluth on Friday in Hays, Kansas. 

“If you can find ways to be consistent and successful in the MIAA, you feel like you can play with some of the best teams in the country,” Eighmey said.

Last year, the Lopers defeated Minnesota Duluth 65-57 in the first round of the central regional.

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