Women’s basketball wins GLIAC title, ends season in regionals heartbreak


Courtesy / GVSU Athletics

Brian Bloom, Staff Writer

The Grand Valley State University women’s basketball team saw their historic season come to an end in a 58-61 loss against Ashland University for the 2023 NCAA Midwest Regional Championship.

“It was a good game, we’re both top-five teams,” said Head Coach Mike Williams. “We did good things defensively, (Ashland’s head coach) made an adjustment at half and it took us too many possessions to make our adjustments in time. Ellie (Droste) had a good look at the end, but (Ashland) made plays down the stretch.”

Prior to the March 13 loss to Ashland, the Lakers went into the national tournament with momentum as they steamrolled their way to the 2023 GLIAC Tournament title after a 62-54 win against Michigan Tech (March 5). 

After two victories in the NCAA Midwest Regional tournament against unranked Kentucky Wesleyan (81-77) and No. 2 ranked Drury University 61-53, GVSU was poised against the top team in the region in Ashland. 

The first quarter consisted of both teams trading buckets in the first six and a half minutes of action (8-12), but the remainder of the period finished with an offensive slump as both teams combined for zero shots on eight attempts (0/4 FG each).

GVSU collected themselves during the break in action, heating up in the second quarter and building their largest lead in the first half (24-17) with just over three minutes remaining. The Lakers would ultimately take a six-point lead into the halftime break (29-23) as they outscored the Panthers 21-11 and a bit of momentum on their side.

In the blink of an eye, however, Ashland would come out of the break scorching with a 0-9 scoring run to take the lead they wouldn’t lose just shy of three minutes into the quarter (29-32). The snowball effect continued as the Panthers built their largest lead of the game (nine points) to push the score to 33-42 and eventually closed the third quarter 38-45.

Facing a potential blowout, Droste went on an offensive run of her own as the redshirt sophomore guard scored 10 of the Lakers’ 11-4 scoring run to cut Ashland’s lead to two points (49-51). Just as GVSU shifted the momentum in their favor, the Panthers would go on another run to create a six-point lead with 2:45 remaining.

Three clutch free throws from senior guard Emily Spitzley and another bucket from Droste cut the deficit to just one point, but two free throws from Ashland pushed the lead back to three points as the Lakers had one last chance to send the game to overtime. 

The final possession landed in Droste’s hands as she attempted a three that would miss the cup and closed the game in heartbreak, 58-61.

In the loss, Droste scored a season-high 25 points on 9-16 shooting, Spitzley added 13 points and redshirt sophomore guard Rylie Bisballe scored 12 points to go with eight rebounds and two blocks in the loss. 

GVSU concluded the 2022-23 season with the GLIAC regular season and tournament titles, a 31-3 overall record (second-consecutive season with 30+ wins) and an NCAA DII Sweet Sixteen appearance.

With the team unable to reach the Final Four in the national tournament like the previous season and a handful of catalysts finishing their collegiate careers, Williams knows that repetition of success in the coming seasons will consist of tough days ahead.

“We’re losing important seniors, Emily, Hannah (Kulas) and Haley (Swing) helped us a lot,” Williams said. “We have a lot of players coming back. If they put the work in we can be a good team again. If not, we’ll struggle a little bit.”

In her final season, Spitzley averaged career-highs in points per game (13.7), assists per game (1.7) and free throw percentage (79.4). Droste had a great season as well, scoring 11.7 PPG on an illustrious 46% shooting overall, 40% three-point clip and 78% from free throw. 

Looking forward to next season, the next steps for the team include getting the new recruits and looking at the transfer portal according to Williams.

“We have three new seniors coming in,” Williams said. “We’re also going to look at the transfer portal to see if there are any players that fill a need we have on our team. Hopefully by the end of the school year we’ll have our full team and be able to build chemistry in the offseason.”