North Central Woman’s Basketball Hopes for a UMAC Playoff Return

Bethany Shield drives the ball during a game against Karli Skog of the St. Scholastica Saints at the Clark-Danielson Gymnasium in Minneapolis Jan. 29. The Rams had a lead through most of the game, but lost it in the fourth, finishing the game 10 points back, 66-77.

The North Central University women’s basketball team is seeking a second consecutive playoff run in the UMAC competition this year, but after losing two division games recently, they need to net several wins to keep their hopes alive.

The Rams made the UMAC playoffs last year—it was the first season the team did not have a losing record in the NCAA DIII play. They were underdogs, and drew the Eagles for the first round. They lost 61-80. Another underdog team, Bethany Lutheran Vikings, went on to win the UMAC Championship.

Now the Rams, with a 9-10 overall record and an even 5-5 in the UMAC, face a steep challenge: They play the Vikings (17-2 overall, 10-1 in the UMAC). The Rams have yet to beat the Vikings in their 18 meetings.

But the Rams have surprised many this season by hanging with the top conference teams. They beat the St. Scholastica Saints—and before last year, the Rams had not beat them for a decade.

In the Rams’ last game Feb. 1—a huge rivalry game against the University of Northwestern Eagles at the Erickson Center, the Rams hoped to claim their second Eagles win for the first time in Rams program history.

Both teams came out swinging the first quarter with the score tying up at 13-13 with only a minute left before the Eagles went on a 4-0 run, ending the quarter. The Rams didn’t deter and four minutes into the second quarter, quickly cut the lead to 21-23. The Eagles responded with a 12-point run, increasing their lead to 35-21. But the Rams refused to back down, closing out the quarter with their own 5-point run. 

Fueled by the Eagles’ 9-point lead at the half, the Rams found the net, taking the first lead of the game, making it 38-37 in the third quarter. The rest of the quarter saw much competitive play and ended with the Rams down by only one point.

During the fourth, the Rams refused to back down during the back and forth play. But the Eagles shot well and took home the win with a final score of 69-78.

During the hard-fought battle, Allison Bulthuis led the Rams with a 20-point, eight-rebound effort. Kadijah Conteh also put in 19 points on 50 percent shooting. Naomi Hagstrom continued to post strong and finished the game with 17 points and 9 rebounds.

Head coach Paul Brunner took the loss in stride and said the Rams were improving and are “doing a really good job of going from a team to becoming a family.”

Brunner is in his fifth year as head coach after former coach and adjunct professor Jeff Grenell stepped down.

Coach Brunner is aided this year by assistant coach Debra Hoyt. A solid group of returners, as well as talented newcomers, have proven to give a dynamic spark to the team.

The Rams are grounded by the strong leadership of their four captains: Allison Bulthuis, Bethany Shield, Betty Rand, and Naomi Hagstrom. Going into the season, coach Brunner stressed building off of what the Rams accomplished last year.

The Rams’ two post players, sophomore Naiomi Hagstrom and junior Emily Digiorgio, have both had exceptionally strong seasons and are both in the top eight for UMAC conference scoring. Freshman Jocelyn Talso, has also been a valuable new asset, leading the team in 3-point shooting.

Brunner said his team focuses on taking one game at a time, doing the best they can to keep moving up in the UMAC.

Six more games are left for the Rams in season play. Tonight’s game against the Vikings will be a test to see how far up they can keep moving.