Ferris State spoils tourney bid for GV women

GVL / Robert Mathews        
Bailey Cairnduff

GVL / Robert Mathews Bailey Cairnduff

Pete Barrows

The Grand Valley State University women’s basketball team traveled back in time Saturday afternoon to an era of radio programs and bulldog newspapers delivered on bike by neighborhood kids just a little past noon.

After a narrow 59-56 loss at Ferris State University on Thursday, GVSU and Northwood University both sat at 12-10 in the GLIAC, while 11-10 Saginaw Valley State University had one final conference game to play; a Saturday showdown against FSU to determine which two teams among the three would earn GLIAC Tournament berths.

The game tipped-off around 1 p.m. at FSU, and from a brief pregame on through, the Lakers listened intently to the radio broadcast made available for streaming online.

“Had we beat Ferris on Thursday, we would have never been in that situation, but today, I was on the edge of my seat for a good two hours waiting for the result of the game,” GVSU senior guard Dani Crandall said. “That was the first time I think we have ever rooted for Ferris.”

By merit of a tiebreak, GVSU needed a Bulldog win to become playoff eligible and listened patiently, digesting every detail that in another time would have flowed in through a Zenith model transistor, for its biggest rival to come through with some good news.

Only the Bulldogs, in a twist of irony, never delivered.

SVSU earned its second straight appearance in postseason play with a 82-71 comeback victory in overtime against FSU, eliminating GVSU, and as the final whistle blew, cementing the finality of it all, the Lakers’ season snapped back forward through time and faded into static with a turn of a dial.

“It wasn’t exactly pleasant listening to the radio broadcast, especially it being a close game that went into overtime,” junior point guard Meryl Cripe said. “Ferris was in control of that game most of the time so it was pretty nerve-wrecking, but it always is when you come down to the end of the season and you’re not in control of your own fate.

“Here we are watching and banking on other teams to get us into the tournament and that’s hard. We can be a great team, have had chances all year, and to not be in control of our own fate in the end was disappointing.”

GVSU fell short of its playoff aspirations by the mildest of margins, and it could be argued that a couple bounces here and there throughout the course of the season could have changed everything.

The flux-capacitor dials were set back to a world left somewhere in the vicinity of a Dec. 5 loss when GVSU took defending national champion Ashland University to the ropes at Grand Rapids Community College, would have done the trick.

A stop along the timeline at a Feb. 1 matchup at the Fieldhouse Arena against Wayne State University, where the Lakers lost 78-76 on a last-second shot, could have helped the cause, too. As could a trip just five days later to GVSU’s second home loss of the season, a 61-59 defeat at the hands of Northern Michigan University after a late rally fell short.

The Lakers could have even saved themselves a few gigawatts and ventured back two days to Thursday to avenge their most recent defeat.

GVSU led by as many as 16 points at FSU, but only made six second-half field goals in the regular-season finale in what materialized into a 59-56 loss.

Crandall and junior forward Kat LaPrairie paced the Lakers with 15 points apiece, while freshman guard Taylor Lutz added nine points and four assists. LaPrairie scored all 15 on 3-point makes, and Crandall grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds to post her fourth double-double of the season.

Junior center Daina Grazulis finished with seven points in just 13 minutes of action as a reserve, but even a 36-22 halftime advantage, constructed in part by a stretch of 14 straight points by Grazulis and Crandall, wasn’t enough.

“We got off to a great start, our defense was phenomenal against a team that’s been putting up huge numbers offensively and of course we were all happy with that – we always want to beat our rival Ferris every chance we get,” Cripe said. “When the drought came around, we tried to keep together and stay in it, but things, one after another, didn’t really go our way.

“The thing was that we knew that game was ours, that it was one we had to get, that we could get and we never gave up; it just didn’t work out in our favor.”

Freshman forward Kayla Dawson notched a pair of free throws early in the second frame that put GVSU up 38-22 — its largest lead of the night — but a six-minute long scoring drought unlocked the door for the Bulldogs to kick through and swing the game on its hinges.

The Lakers trailed by 11 points at the 3:54 mark, but a furious rally spearheaded by Crandall made it a two-point affair with just under a minute left in the game. GVSU had two chances to tie or take the lead in its final two possessions of the season, but came up empty on both trips.

“It was a challenging game in many ways,” GVSU coach Janel Burgess said. “One thing that we’ve learned this season is that Dani Crandall is very valuable to this team and when she got into some foul trouble in the first half, it was tough for us to fight through – we didn’t make some of the plays that we needed to make down the stretch.

“We’ve made those plays in big games that we’ve won, but when he haven’t made those plays, we’ve taken some tough losses and that game was a perfect example of that dynamic.”

If only a radio could in fact support time travel, the broadcast the Lakers collectively tuned into could have had an entirely different sound. Alas, a radio transports waves, not fantasies.

And make no mistake, it wasn’t easy for the a Laker squad that finished the season 14-12 overall, one win short, to listen to their fantasy dissolve.

“It was gut wrenching, and when you leave it in other people’s control, it hurts even more,” Burgess said. “I think this young team that has seasoned together through the journey this year deserved the opportunity to compete in the playoffs and unfortunately, we won’t get that.

“I feel horrible for these young ladies who have given me and this program and this university everything they possibly could throughout the entire season. I don’t know if words can express how I feel at this point in time for those kids, but I think you could use the word ‘rewarding’ to describe this season.

“These young ladies impacted me and everyone they surrounded themselves with each and every day in a special way. We definitely did not reach our fullest potential in terms of wins and losses, but I thought we reached our fullest potential in almost every other category – our effort, our hard work, our collectiveness, our drive to continue to get better, our vigor and energy to fight and attack every challenge – and I don’t think we will ever look back on this season as being anything but a success.”

The upswing is that next season, GVSU will return an entire roster, with the exception of one senior, and will hope to usher in a freshman class as successful as the last. The downswing is that lone senior is Dani Crandall, a student-athlete that transformed into a transcendent player and made an indelible impact on the program.

In her four years, Crandall did not rewrite Laker record books and never won a title of any kind, but her legacy still figures to stand the test of time.

“We’re going to lose one senior – a great one,” Burgess said. “A great young woman that truly exemplifies what Laker women’s basketball is about, what GVSU is all about, and she has left a tremendous mark on this program. These young kids have followed her and they’ll carry on what she has given them. We’ll be back next year.”

Cripe, as well as Grazulis, LaPrairie and guard Janelle McQueen will comprise next season’s senior crop on a squad that made significant strides of growth throughout the 2013-2014 season.

Underclassmen players like Dawson, Lutz, freshman forward Piper Tucker and sophomore guard Bailey Cairnduff all made notable contributions this year, as well, and should continue to provide in increased roles in Crandall’s absence.

“Right now, I’m kind of in shock,” Cripe said. “I can’t believe that in a matter of seconds, I became a senior on this team; it hasn’t fully hit me yet, but I’m excited for the future.

“I come from a family with only one brother so these girls are sisters to me — we had a great year coming together and have a special connection — and with that, it’s an extremely bittersweet feeling that we were unable to send Dani out on a higher note.

“She’s done some great things during her time here and this team is going to do some great things in the near future, in no small part because of what she has done.”

The clocks aren’t going back and the the 2013-14 season that was is now over, but ask the Lakers and they’ll tell you that they wouldn’t go back in time even if they could. That perhaps this season, at its end, and Crandall’s career as a player, at a close, are not ends at all or even the beginning of an ends, but rather the ends of a beginning.

No, there’s no going back – not to the days of letter sweaters and poodle skirts or to replay the season – but the future is bright for GVSU women’s basketball. And when the time is right, the Lakers and Crandall will boldly travel into that future with their past as a guide in pursuit of more fulfilling finishes.

“This is the most fun I’ve ever had playing basketball,” said Crandall, who was named to the All-GLIAC First Team on Friday. “I’m disappointed that it had to end so soon and it would have been nice to have gotten the few extra wins we needed to extend the season, but I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to spend my last year of basketball with.

“This team has really done some good things this year and come together. It was, in a way, a rebuilding year because we are so young, but more than that, I’d call it a step in the right direction. The numbers may not show it and our record may not reflect that, but we did something this year that is going to effect this program in future years. Having the season I did, leaving this team in the state that it’s in and knowing that it will only get better from here, I feel really confident about the direction of this program and that direction is towards a championship ring.”