Women’s basketball sweeps rival Ashland


Courtesy of GVSU Athletics

Josh Carlson, Staff Writer

The Grand Valley State University’s women’s basketball (4-0) team has a new look this year, and it’s a good one. There were uncertainties coming into this season. The Lakers returned none of their starters for last season and had to find out who would step up, especially against a team like Ashland University (2-2), who dealt the Lakers their three losses last season.

Coach Mike Williams knew coming into this week playing Ashland back-to-back, the those three losses from last season would be something on the back of their minds.

“The last five years, the games we have played against them have been unbelievable.” Williams said. “We have been watching film from last year, and two years ago in our gym and their gym. You can see the crowds, the players on the floor, and the intensity of the game, and you just know you are playing Ashland. This is a new group, so it’s not their trademark, but it’s certainly in their minds that this a team we have battled for five years.”

The Lakers ground out their first win of the weekend, a 73-68 win on Saturday Jan. 16, which ended the Eagle’s 33-game win streak – the second longest in the country and included a 25-game conference win streak in the GLIAC.

In the first quarter, the Lakers came out with high energy jumping to an 11-2 lead before Ashland called a timeout to settle the Lakers run. The Eagles then continued to try and chip away at the Laker’s lead, but the Lakers had other plans and were lights out shooting from beyond the arc. They were led by junior guard Brooke McKinley, who went 3-4 from three in the first half to bring their lead up to 42-30 by halftime.

“I thought we played well in the first half,” Williams said. “We did a great job with decisions, made some shots and I thought we defended well.”

Coming out of the half, the Eagles were not ready to go away quickly and came out with a 10-2 run of their own, bringing it to 42-40 and eventually tying the ball game at 44-44.

“We knew they would make a run at us,” Williams said. “We told our players you’re going to see what you’re made out of. This is going to be a great test for you; how are you going to respond?”

The Lakers showed what they were made of by answering back at Ashland every time they came close to taking the lead. An electric and-one from freshman forward Rylie Bisballe, with just over two minutes of play, made it 66-60, and sent the entire Laker bench to their feet, deflating any momentum the Eagles had been able to build.

The first game of the weekend was led by McKinley, who finished 5-9 from three with 20 points, and four rebounds. Junior forward Hannah Kulas finished the game with 18 points and seven rebounds to defeat an Eagles team who has been a force in the GLIAC in the past years.

“I think our team from the start had great energy,” McKinley said. “We were really attacking the boards and that’s something we struggled with in our first two games. We were closing down on those rebounds, and really helping out on the post players too, and digging in with guards. Our confidence overall, especially down the stretch when it got tight, we just had each-others backs and pulled through.”

McKinley, who is among the completely new starting five for the Lakers this season, is making the most of her shot in the new lineup.

“I think all of us have been waiting for our chance,” McKinley said. “We’ve had a great class go out that we were learning from, experiencing what the tough games are going to have to be like, but we were really excited to finally have our shot. We put in a lot of work this off-season; it was tough with COVID-19 regulations, we couldn’t get inside of the gym, so we did all of our workouts outside. But we were ready to go.”

McKinley was right. They were ready to go this weekend, turning the tables on the Eagles from a season ago with a 70-67 win to finish the sweep for the weekend and move to 4-0 on the season. Junior guard Emily Spitzley led the second game with 15 points and four rebounds. The Lakers also getting tremendous contributions from a pair of freshmen off the bench in Hadley Miller and Rylie Bisballe. Miller contributed 10 points and seven rebounds, and Bisballe with 10 points and 10 rebounds for her first career double-double.

The Lakers will now travel to Wisconsin next weekend Jan. 22, where they will battle it out against Parkside in back-to-back conference games once again and hope to move to 6-0 on the year and continue the hot start to the season.