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Women's basketball team streaks to 21 straight
By Jeff Febus and Ross Weener
Women's basketball team coached by John Ross
First-year coach John Ross led the Knights to a conference championship.

After a five-year absence, the MIAA regular-season championship trophy in women’s basketball returned to Calvin College.

In an amazing turnaround, Calvin captured the 2004 MIAA regular season title, with a 13-1 conference record, winning the league championship outright, one game ahead of four-time defending champion Hope. Calvin’s 13 conference wins marked a seven-game improvement over its 6-8 conference record of 2002-2003.

It was also just one victory shy of matching the MIAA single-season record for conference victories in women’s basketball.

Heading into the final regular season game, Calvin and Hope were locked in a tie for first place, with 12-1 conference records.

A Calvin victory at Adrian and a Hope win at Albion would have resulted in an MIAA co-title between the two rivals and would have given Hope an unprecedented fifth-straight league crown.

The tie was broken on the final day, however, as Calvin held off Adrian 81-72, while Hope fell at Albion 62-52, giving Calvin its first MIAA title since the 1998-1999 season, and its first outright crown since the 1997-1998 season.

The outright title created a joyful bus ride all the way home, according to first-year head coach John Ross. “The players were chanting ‘conference champions’ nearly the entire ride home,” said Ross, who came to Calvin this past fall after serving as the assistant men’s basketball coach at Earlham College. “They definitely felt good about the accomplishment.”

The Knights certainly had reason to feel good, as the conference crown was the 10th in Calvin women’s basketball history—more than any other MIAA school.

Back in November, it hardly appeared that Calvin would contend for the league crown, as it dropped three of its opening five games, including a 78-61 conference defeat to Hope on November 25 at the Calvin Fieldhouse.

“We had a few bumps in the road early in the season because the players had to adjust to a new system and a new coach,” said Ross. “Once they started to pick up what we wanted to do with our offensive and defensive schemes, the team really began to gel.”

Linda Heilman
Sophomore Linda Heilman drives past a defender.

On December 6, the Knights trounced Illinois College 91-60 in the consolation game of a tournament hosted by St. Mary’s (Ind.) College. The victory kicked off a memorable 21-game win streak, which was finally snapped in the MIAA tournament finals by Albion in a heartbreaking 49-45 defeat in front of a large home crowd at Calvin. The loss to Albion denied Calvin an automatic bid to the NCAA III tournament, and when the tournament field was announced the following evening, the Knights did not receive one of the few at-large berths.

“It was frustrating because I felt we were definitely one of the top 25 teams in the nation by the end of the season,” said Ross, who was named MIAA Women’s Basketball Coach of the Year, becoming the first coach at Calvin to receive the award. “At the same time, I don’t think it diminishes anything that we accomplished this year.”

Among the more impressive accomplishments was Calvin’s league-leading defensive scoring average. The Knights limited opponents to just 53.8 points per game in conference play.

“Coaches like to say that ‘defense wins championships,’” said Ross. “I’d like to think that was also true with our team this year.”

With several letter winners returning for the 2004-2005 season, the future appears bright for the Calvin women’s basketball team. “We’ve got a number of strong players returning next year, and we hope to add a few newcomers who can help us out,” said Ross. “I think next year could be another good season.”