Women's basketball captures second-straight MIAA title
by Jeff Febus
After a school-record 23 wins, an MIAA title and advancing to the second round of the NCAA III Tournament a year ago, the Calvin women's basketball team had much to hang its hat on. But after losing four seniors and three starters to graduation, the outlook for the 1996-97 season appeared to center around the old "rebuilding" theme. But one year later, the Knights had captured their second straight MIAA title, again advanced to the second round of the NCAA III Tournament, and matched a school record for victories in a season.
In the process, Calvin put together back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time in school history.
With four freshmen, five sophomores and only two seniors on his roster, Calvin coach Gregg Afman did not expect the same kind of success his team enjoyed in 1995-96. "Before the season, I did not expect to come close to winning 20 games again," said Afman. "We lost our top four scorers and a ton of leadership from last year's team. I knew we had some young players with talent on the varsity but I could have never predicted the kind of success we had this year."
Calvin opened the season on an impressive note, knocking off nationally-ranked Geneseo State and then Allegheny to capture the championship of the Allegheny Tip-Off Classic. Calvin continued to roll, claiming the White Division Championship of the Grand Rapids Press Tournament over Thanksgiving weekend, knocking off Division II Ferris State University in the championship game. Another tournament title followed a few weeks later when Calvin repeated as champ at the Pat Pasko Tournament hosted by North Central College. Calvin's winning streak continued all the way through December before the Knights were finally derailed by Division II and eventual NCAA II Tournament-bound Western New Mexico State at the California Baptist Invitational on January 2.
The Knights then ripped off eight consecutive victories before falling on the road to Alma on a last-second shot 58-57. Despite the loss to the NCAA III Tournament-bound Scots, Calvin was able to win the remainder of it regular season games to claim its second straight and league-leading seventh MIAA championship. In the MIAA Tournament semifinals, the Knights were upset by Hope 50-47. Despite the loss, Calvin received an at-large bid to the 64-team NCAA III Tournament.
In a first round Great Lakes Regional game, sixth-seeded Calvin recorded a 58-55 upset victory over third-seeded Baldwin-Wallace in Berea, Ohio. Calvin's season came to an end three days later in Columbus, Ohio, as eventual NCAA III Final Four member Capital University defeated the Knights 66-43.
Calvin relied on a balanced scoring attack throughout the season as junior center Kerry Walters of South Christian High School was the only Calvin player to average in double figures at 13.5 points a game. Calvin finished among the nation's leaders in defensive scoring average, holding opponents to just over 50 points per game while averaging 61 points per game on offense In league play, Calvin led the MIAA in defensive scoring average, holding opponents to 48.7 points a game. On the season, Calvin held opponents to 60 points or less in 24 of its 27 games. The Knights were also ranked among the nation's top-20 teams for the final three weeks of the season.
"We were not a high scoring team by any stretch of the imagination," said Afman. "The key to our season was our defense. With such a young team, it took us a while to fill roles and positions. We knew that would be the case coming in so the coaching staff preached defense from the first day of practice. We figured if we could play great defense, we'd have a shot at winning some games early while our young players developed and that's what happened."
As for the final result, Afman was delighted. "You never know for sure what each year will bring as far as wins and losses are concerned so as a coach, you're happy whenever you have a successful season," said Afman. "To win a league championship, get back to the NCAA's and win 20-plus games again with such a young team was just a real pleasant surprise."