St. Louis, Mo., March 10, 2021 – They say its hard to beat a team three times in a season. Coming into tonight's 2021 SLIAC Women's Basketball Tournament Championship game the Blue Jays had lost two times to the Webster University Gorloks this season by an average margin of 12 points. The Westminster College Blue Jay women's basketball team gave some more evidence to the truth in that statement as they took down the #1 seeded Webster University Gorloks 80-73 on their home court to win the SLIAC Tournament Championship.
The game got off to a back and forth start. Reese Arnold would start the scoring off for both teams as she would hit a pull up jumper just 15 seconds into the game for a 2-0 Blue Jay lead. A Shelby Kurtz jumper off of an Avylina Powel-Qualo assist made it 4-0 Westminster Powel-Qualo and Abby Nichols would make shots that would see the Blue Jays take an 8-4 lead. This was significant because the past two games with Webster the Blue Jays opened the games on the wrong end of 18-6 and 22-6 runs. The Blue Jays announced that they were here to battle for a championship. The score went back and forth with no one taking more than a four-point lead. Webster would score the last three points of the quarter for a 16-13 lead at the end of one. Webster had the lead thanks to 11 points off of 12 Westminster turnovers.
The second quarter saw more back and forth play. With Webster leading 22-18 the Blue Jays would go on a 10-0 run that started with a Powel-Qualo jumper off of a Makayla Jackson assist and was capped off by an Abbie Reece layup off of an Arnold assist. The Blue Jays would lead 28-22. Webster would then go on a 10-2 run to take a 32-30 lead. Powel-Qualo would then hit 4-6 free throws on the next three possessions to give the Jays the 34-32 lead but Webster's Addison Beussink would hit two free throws just before the half to tie the score at 34 all heading to the break. In the second quarter it was the Blue Jays who would score 11 points off of 6 Webster turnovers.
The third quarter saw the Blue Jays throw the first punch out of the half going on a 10-5 run to take a 44-39 lead. An Abbie Reece three pointer and four straight points by Kurtz fueled the run. Webster countered with a 10-0 run of their own powered by five points by Beussink the Gorloks led 49-44. Two Arnold free throws interrupted the Webster run and made the score 49-46 with 4:32 left in the third. Webster would then score 9 of the next 11 points to take its biggest lead of the game at 58-48 on two Hannah Cottrell free throws. Arnold would hit a pull up jumper off of a Kurtz assist to cut the lead to 58-50 going into the fourth quarter. Webster recorded 11 points off of 6 Westminster turnovers in the period.
The Blue Jays would continue what Arnold started with her jumper to end the third as Madison Schaeffer would score in the paint followed by a jumper by Abbie Reece. Arnold would then turn a Webster turnover into a layup for A. Reece to cut the Gorlok lead to 58-56. Abbie Reece would then steal the ball from Websters Lauryn Freeman and Nichols would find the Blue Jays leading scorer Arnold who would drill a three to give the Jays the lead for good at 59-58. The run would continue and after a Powel-Qualo layup gave the Blue Jays its biggest lead so far at 67-58 with 5:28 to play in the game. The run reached at an incredible 19 straight points. Webster tried to rally but every time they would cut into the lead Shelby Kurtz, a freshman, would hit two dagger three pointers from the right corner on consecutive possessions at the end of the Webster press to push the Jays lead up to double figures at 73-63 and then two Arnold free throws gave the Blue Jays their largest lead of the night at 75-63 with :56 left to play. The Jays would connect on 7-8 free throws to hold off the Gorloks and as Cottrell made a three at the buzzer for the final score of 80-73 the Westminster bench erupted onto the court to celebrate their SLIAC Tournament Championship victory.
The telling stat from a 30-15 fourth quarter dominated by the Blue Jays was the 14 points the Jays scored off of seven Gorlok turnovers. The Blue Jay bench also outscored the Gorlok bench 20-7 and held an advantage in fast break points 12-6. The Jays also did what they did all season long dominated the boards 53-37 on the way to the title.
Arnold led the Blue Jays with 26 points and a season high 11 rebounds for her first double-double of the year. Powel-Qualo would chip in 15 to go with 8 rebounds and the freshman Kurtz threw in 12 points with two huge three's down the stretch. Abbie Reece and Schaeffer would each contribute nine points.
Kurtz was named to the SLIAC All-Tournament team and Reese Arnold was named the Tournament's Most Valuable Player. They were joined on the SLIAC All-Tournament team by Beussink and Julie Baudendistel from Webster. Olivia Falls from Eureka and Madelyn Stephen from Greenville.
Coach Washington had this to say after the game, "Defense was huge tonight. We knew that if we were going to have a chance to win this game, our defense had to get stops. I am just so incredibly proud of this team. They fought so hard till the end to get the job done!"
The Tournament Title was the first by the Blue Jays in six years last winning it when Head Coach Talisha Washington was still playing for the Blue Jays. Washington was named Coach of the Year by the conference. Arnold made First Team All-Conference. Powel-Qualo made Second Team All-Conference and was named to the All-Defensive Team. Makayla Jackson was selected for the SLIAC All-Sportsmanship Team. The Blue Jays finish the year 12-3.