Lady Lions clinch AAC title
February 17, 2006

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By: Matt Williams
Source: The Herald-News
02-15-2006
This article is reprinted from The Herald-News, Dayton, TN, by permission.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Bryan College women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant must have always had an idea that his team’s final road trip of the regular season would be an important one, but killing two birds with one stone may have only been a recent thought for the fourth-year coach.

The Lady Lions completed two of their main goals for the season in one fell swoop over the weekend, sweeping a pair of games from Bluefield College (Bluefield, Va.) on Friday and the University of Virginia at Wise (Wise, Va.) Saturday afternoon. The victories clinched the Appalachian Athletic Conference regular season championship and also assured an automatic berth for the Lady Lions in next month’s NAIA Division II tournament in Sioux City, Iowa.

The team will be making its third consecutive appearance at the national tournament. Though they won the AAC tournament title last season, the Lady Lions’ regular season championship is the first for the team in school history.

“It was a pretty big win for us,” said Bollant of his team’s title-clinching 74-66 win over UVA-Wise on Saturday. “Clinching that trip to Iowa is nice.”

UVA-Wise wasn’t going to hand Bryan the title though on Saturday.

The Lady Lions took control of the game early, jumping out to an 18-7 lead on a layup by sophomore Kellie Thurman at the 11:31 mark, and pushed their advantage to a 28-16 spread on a jumper by junior Brittany Swanson with 6:26 remaining in the first half.

Rachel Helton answered back with a pair of three-pointers to quickly cut into Bryan’s lead, and Helton’s twin sister Sarah followed with another trey to dice the Lady Lions’ advantage to 28-25.

Swanson rebuilt Bryan’s lead to 34-27 after hitting a pair of trifectas, but the Lady Cavs stormed back with a 9-0 run to end the half, punctuated by a half-court shot at the buzzer by Chelsea Lee, and led 36-34 at halftime.

The home team led by four points early in the second half before the Lady Lions countered to tie the game. The two teams battled through the first 10 minutes of the second half, and the score was knotted up five times, but a three-pointer by freshman Kaylin Carswell at the nine-minute mark gave Bryan the lead for good at 56-53. A trey by Swanson three minutes later gave Bryan a 63-56 cushion, and another short jumper by Swanson at the three-minute mark extended the Lady Lions’ lead to 67-57.

UVA-Wise wouldn’t go away quietly, scoring seven straight points to pull within three points.

Swanson drained six straight free throws down the stretch to seal the Lady Lion title and return trip to Iowa.

Swanson made a strong case for player of the year honors, finishing the game with 31 points, five rebounds and four assists. Thurman had arguably her best game of the year, hanging 16 points and grabbing 13 boards, and junior Sarah Coffman added 15 points in limited action after being saddled with foul trouble much of the game.

Freshman Ashley Gray, the shortest player on the floor, pulled down 12 rebounds for the Lady Lions.

Lee led UVA-Wise (20-8, 14-4) with 18 points.

Bryan was never seriously challenged by Bluefield (0-22, 0-18) on Friday, winning easily by a 79-59 score.

Bryan held Bluefield to 18 percent shooting in the first half and took a 39-25 lead into the intermission. The Lady Lions’ bench saw significant action in the second half.

Coffman paced Bryan with 22 points and 11 boards, while Swanson hung 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Thurman added 13 points, six rebounds and four assists, and Gray pitched in six points, nine rebounds and 12 assists.

Alysha Cornell and Charly Markwart led Bluefield with 14 points each.

The weekend wins push Bryan’s record to 23-5 overall, 16-2 in the AAC, and extend the team’s winning streak to 13 games. The Lady Lions have won 14 consecutive AAC contests.

Bryan played at home Tuesday night against AAC second-place team Milligan College (17-10, 14-4), but game results were not available at press time. The Lady Lions hold all tiebreakers over Milligan and UVA-Wise.

Bryan plays host to Tennessee Wesleyan College (16-9, 10-8) on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. in its final home game of the season.

Matt Williams can be reached at mattwilliams@xtn.net