Women’s basketball looks to make return to Summit League Championship after 12-17 season


Myanna Purdue/ Courier Staff

Danni Nichols named Summit League Freshman of the Year.

Bradley Piros , Sports Editor

It’s been two years since the Western Illinois women’s basketball team hoisted the Summit League Championship trophy, and they’re looking to get back there again. After a rough 12-17 overall record, and an 8-8 conference record the Leathernecks aren’t in the best of shape.

Western lost their last four games of the season including senior night, meaning they’re in their worst form all season. The skid began back on Feb. 16 inside Western Hall against No. 25 South Dakota when the Leathernecks fell, 83-61. They had a week to turn themselves around for senior night against the Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles, but Western’s lone senior Taylor Higginbotham and her team failed to win their home closer, losing 92-85 in a back-and-forth shootout.

Just like that, there were only two games left on Western’s season, both of them on the road. The first was a trip to Denver where they lost 94-85, and the final game was against the No. 1 seeded South Dakota State University Jackrabbits, 100-62.

The Leathernecks will be heading into Sioux Falls, S.D. as the No. 5 seed, meaning they’ll be taking on the No. 4 seed ORU. Western lost both meetings against the Golden Eagles tis season, the first being back on Jan 5 (68-64) and the other on senior night a little more than two weeks ago.

ORU is coming off a 17-12 season, going 10-6 in conference play. They are in their best form of the season, coming into the tournament riding a four-game win streak with wins coming against North Dakota State, North Dakota and Western, all on the road. They wrapped their season up with a narrow 65-64 win against Omaha on senior night.

Between these two schools, there will be four players named to the All-Summit League teams, two from ORU and two from Western.

Those two players being Higginbotham and junior guard Olivia Kaufman, both being voted to the second team. Western also had guard Danni Nichols voted as the Summit League Freshman of the Year. She became the first player to do this in the women’s team’s history.

Higginbotham has now done this in back-to-back seasons while this is Kaufman and Nichol’s first. Kaufman leads the team and ranks fourth best in The Summit League with an average 16.7 points per game in conference play. She also leads the league with her 80 steals.

Higginbotham, as many now know, broke the all-time scoring record previously held by Emily Clemens who graduated last year after notching 1,715 points and counting.

Western has the individual talent to make a tournament run, but they’ll all have to work together if they expect to make it past the first round.

On the other side of the court are the Golden Eagles. Leading the way, as well as making the All-Summit League first team, is senior guard Lakota Beatty.

She averages 15 points a game, shoots .435 from beyond the arc and .450 overall. She’s the only player that started all 27 games for ORU and is looking to cap off her collegiate career with a deep run.

Sophomore guard Maya Mayberry made second team All-Summit. She played in 25 games, averaging 14.4 points a contest. She shoots .427 from the three-point line.

Rounding out the team’s “big three” is fellow sophomore guard Keni Jo Lippe. She averages 13.4 points per game and can also shoot threes, going for a .380 percentage.

This is why the last meeting between these two teams was an absolute barnburner. If they shot it, it went in that game on senior night. Expect nothing less from this game, as both sides will be cranking it up for the tournament.

The winner of this game will be the team that shutdown their opposition and prevented that three-point shot. It’s hard to beat a team three straight times in a season, so let’s see if the third time’s the charm for the Leathernecks.

Tipoff is this Sunday at noon.