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Spring 2005 | Volume 28, Number 1 | Athletics

Making Memories

Falcons Reach the NCAA Title Game

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — And then there were two.

This was the third straight season that SPU finished in the top 10 nationally. Here, the Falcons celebrate their semifinal victory over Merrimack.

On March 25, 2005, a field of 279 women’s basketball teams in NCAA Division II were whittled down to the final contenders: Seattle Pacific University and Washburn (Kansas). The Falcons had advanced further in the NCAA tournament than ever before and were riding high.

“It’s been a great experience for the players and myself, one that we’ll never forget,” said SPU coach Gordy Presnell after his team beat Michigan’s Grand Valley State 67-55 in the quarterfinals and Maine’s Merrimack 73-64 in the semifinals. “Hopefully we can make even more memories in the finals.”

Although associated with an up-tempo, high-scoring offense, Seattle Pacific got downright defensive during their second visit to the Elite Eight in two years. Grand Valley State and Merrimack managed to shoot a combined 31 percent and were held to 59.5 points. But offensively, the Falcons struggled — and that made the difference in the nationally televised title game.

A cold snap that began during the semifinal win carried over to the first 25 minutes of the championship game, and by then Washburn was simply out of reach. An SPU surge twice sliced the 24-point deficit to eight in the final seven minutes before Washburn sealed the verdict, 70-53.

“It felt amazing to be one of the two final teams in the nation,” says center Brittney Kroon, who finished second among NCAA Division II shot blockers for the season. “Even though it was a tough loss, we are proud to have made it so far.”

Reaching the title game was another building block for a program that has been steadily advancing toward a national championship. This year was the Falcons’ ninth trip to the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) playoffs, and for the third year in a row they earned the No. 1 seed and the opportunity to host the West Regional tournament at Brougham Pavilion. They clinched their third straight GNAC crown and qualified for the NCAA tournament after beating arch-rival Western Washington, 76-61.

The team’s overall talent and considerable depth helped SPU win 25 of 27 regular season games and consistent rankings among the nation’s top four teams. Ranked No. 3 as they entered the NCAA tournament, the Falcons were voted to the No. 2 spot in the final USA Today/ESPN women’s basketball coaches poll for Division II. Individually, senior guard Amy Taylor and junior forward Carli Smith earned all-conference honors.

“I couldn’t be more proud of this team,” says Seattle Pacific President Philip Eaton, who traveled to Arkansas to watch the championship game. “SPU is striving to be a premier, national university — well, these women are a premier, national basketball team.”

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