By Justin Grones (@JustinGrones)
GREEN BAY, Wis. (GreenBayPhoenix.com) – Senior leadership is never a bad thing for a team to have heading into a fifth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance—especially when that senior class is the largest and one of the most decorated in that team’s 40-year history. Just ask Green Bay women’s basketball head coach Kevin Borseth, and he’ll tell you how important the five players are to the team’s success.
“My job when I came back here was not to screw this up, and I’m so happy for this senior class,” Borseth said. “They’re smart. They’re very smart—they have ideas for plays and what we should do in certain situations before I even come up with anything. So as a coach their knowledge of the game and leadership qualities make my job a heck of a lot easier.”
Prior to the arrival of the current senior class, Green Bay had just two first round wins in 10 trips to the Big Dance. Since the 2009-10 season, the team has been dancing into at least the second round with an overall record of 4-3.
The class started its winning ways in the tournament during the 2010 edition, when the No. 12 seed Phoenix upset No. 5 seed Virginia in a 69-67 thriller. The team advanced to play No. 4 seed Iowa State on its home court in the second round, where it narrowly fell 60-56 to the Cyclones.
In 2011, Green Bay had its most successful postseason run to date. The team traveled to Wichita, Kans., where it defeated No. 12 UALR 59-55 in the first round. Following the win, the Phoenix defeated Michigan State 65-56 to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history. Despite a valiant effort against top-seeded Baylor, Green Bay’s season came to a close in an 86-76 defeat.
Last season the seventh-seeded Phoenix got revenge over Iowa State on its home court, defeating the Cyclones in convincing fashion with a 71-57 victory in Ames, Iowa. In last year’s second round, Green Bay battled back from 17 points down to eventually hold a slim lead over No. 2 seed Kentucky. After a contested layup rimmed off, the Wildcats hit two free throws to seal the 65-62 win.
This season, Green Bay’s five seniors will head to Baton Rouge as the No. 11 seed to play No. 6 seed LSU on its home court—a rematch of the last NCAA Tournament game they weren’t a part of. The only member of the senior class who was at that game is redshirt senior Stephanie Sension (Hopkins, Minn.), who was an inactive redshirt for that meeting. Despite the tall task of battling a higher-seeded team on its home court nearly 1,200 miles away from home, the class has no intent of its success in the tournament coming to an end.
All told, Green Bay’s five-member senior class features some of the most decorated players in program history. The Phoenix has an incredible 122-11 record during the past four seasons with a 10-1 mark in the Horizon League Tournament and a 66-4 overall record in Horizon League contests. With one of the best homecourt advantages in the country, this year’s senior class boasts a remarkable 64-2 record at the Kress Center with perfect seasons in 2010-11 and this year’s campaign.
The class has set a number of program records, highlighted by hometown hero Adrian Ritchie (De Pere, Wis.), who enters the postseason as the program’s all-time leader in 3-point shooting. To date, Ritchie has connected on 195-of-533 attempts from behind the arc, both program records. She has made 70 triples this season, tying the team record for 3-point field goals made in a single season on a program-best 184 attempts. A career 81.5 percent free throw shooter, she’s currently fourth on the all-time list while holding down the No. 10 spot in career steals with 231.
With an appearance in Sunday’s game at LSU, Ritchie will have appeared in eight NCAA Tournament games—tying the mark for most NCAA Tournament appearances by a player in program history set last year by Julie Wojta and Hannah Quilling. In the Horizon League Tournament quarterfinal game against Valparaiso on March 13, she went 7-14 from long range—tying the Horizon League Tournament record for 3-pointers made in a single tournament game on the most 3-point attempts in a game in program history. A First Team All-Horizon League selection and the 2013 Horizon League Tournament MVP, Ritchie has 1,344 points and 506 rebounds for her standout career.
A Second Team All-Horizon League selection and a member of the 2013 Horizon League Championship All-Tournament Team, Sarah Eichler (Grafton, Wis.) has evolved from a driving forward into a 3-point threat and assist machine. Eichler shoots a team-best 39.3 percent from long range and has made 42 triples this season—nearly double her total from any other year of her career. She has 111 assists for the season and has averaged an incredible 5.5 shares per game during the past 13 games.
Eichler joined the 1,000-point club on Feb. 14 against Cleveland State and currently has 1,100 career points. She currently sits tied atop the career games played record list with 132 appearances, and will leave Sunday’s contest as the most veteran player in program history. She also has seven NCAA Tournament appearances, and with Ritchie will tie the program’s top mark of eight with an appearance on Sunday. Named the Horizon League Player of the Week on Nov. 26, Eichler has scored 20 or more points on three occasions this season.
Lydia Bauer (Lake Zurich, Ill.) has long been known as a 3-point threat with her laser-accurate left hand. She enters Sunday’s contest with 977 career points, just 23 away from giving the Phoenix its first season with three new members to the 1,000-point club. She’s currently in fourth place on the career 3-point field goals made list with 162 and third on the 3-point attempts list with 446. Her appearance in Sunday’s contest will be her 130th career game, the third-most played by an individual in program history.
A Preseason All-Horizon League selection, Bauer was praised by former USA Olympic Gold medalist women’s basketball coach Nell Fortner in the 2013 Horizon League Championship game against Loyola for making a tough one-handed shot with her off hand.
A reserve player until this season, Sension has shined in her final season with the program as a regular starter. In her first career start in the season opener at UNI, she played 33 minutes and scored 13 points while grabbing six rebounds. Just two games later, she recorded her first-career double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds against James Madison. She picked up her second double-double on Feb. 2 against UIC in a 12-point, 10-rebound effort.
A 53.5 percent shooter for the season, she finished third in the Horizon League in field goal percentage while also knocking down seven triples this year. A career 49.1 percent shooter, Sension has 723 career points and 25 blocks. She’s long been known for taking a physical charge from Baylor center Brittney Griner in the Sweet 16 of the 2011 NCAA Tournament and for being a vocal presence on the court.
A transfer from Kansas State who sat out the 2009-10 campaign due to NCAA transfer rules, redshirt senior Jenny Gilbertson (Wabasha, Minn.) has become the ultimate sixth player. She is the only reserve player to have played in all 31 games this season, and has scored in double figures three times. In a 55-33 win over Missouri on Nov. 23, she scored a team-high 11 points on a 3-of-6 effort from behind the arc. In a Jan. 19 win at Youngstown State, she came off the bench and went 3-of-4 from long range in the second half to help fuel an 18-point victory.
Gilbertson notched her first-career double-double in Green Bay’s dominant 99-53 win over UIC on Feb. 2, recording 14 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. She also helped Green Bay defeat up-and-coming Loyola at home on March 7, scoring nine points on 3-of-4 3-point shooting while grabbing seven rebounds. As the lone reserve senior, her younger teammates credit her for her leadership ability when they see time on the court together, and cite her as a calming presence when nerves get tight.
Ritchie, Eichler, Bauer, Sension and Gilbertson—along with the rest of the Green Bay women’s basketball team—will look to continue their streak of success as the 2013 NCAA Tournament opens on Sunday at 6:30 in Baton Rouge.
To follow the Phoenix in the NCAA Tournament, visit Tournament Central presented by Packers Pro Shop.
For tickets and other information on the First and Second Round games at the Maravich Center, please visit LSUSports.net. Single-session and all-session ticket packages are available. All-session packages can be purchased for $25 for Adults and $15 for Youth. Single-session tickets are being sold for a variety of prices depending on location.
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