Advancing to today’s quarterfinals of the Missouri Valley Conference women’s basketball tournament took more than a win for Valparaiso.
The Crusaders dealt with more than their share of adversity before tipping off a 63-46 opening-round victory over Loyola on Thursday at the TaxSlayer Center.
Valparaiso’s coach, Tracey Dorow, was placed on medical leave Tuesday and wasn’t around to watch the Crusaders hold the Ramblers to 25.9-percent shooting to win their first-ever postseason game as a member of the Missouri Valley.
Dorow’s interim replacement, Justin Rees, had to keep it all together when the team bus experienced mechanical difficulties on the way to the Quad-Cities.
"It’s been a challenging week," Rees said. "To be without coach Dorow, who has been a close friend of mine for a long time, is difficult for all of us. To deal with a bus problem, you deal with it. We’re all coping."
Rees senses that it all may have created more cohesion in the eighth-seeded Crusaders’ game.
"We played better basketball over longer periods of time than we have in quite some time," Rees said. "If anything, this may have brought us closer together. It certainly seemed that way."
Valparaiso helped itself with a solid start, scoring the game’s first five points on its way to a 14-7 lead after one quarter, which Loyola never overcame.
The Crusaders put the ball into the hands of their offensive leaders, Dani Franklin and Meredith Hamlet, early and often.
As they helped Valparaiso build its early lead, Rees watched the rest of his team settle into a flow offensively.
"We weren’t perfect — we made plenty of mistakes — but our ability to run some plays early and get back to just playing basketball, that was big for us," Rees said.
Franklin, an all-conference senior who prepped at Cedar Rapids Washington, led the Crusaders with 24 points while Hamlet added 12 and dished out four assists.
"We’ve faced a lot of adversity this week, but we hung together and came out tough, and we were all ready to go," Franklin said. “We miss coach Dorow, but the best thing we can do for her is play the best we can and see how far that takes us."
Valparaiso (13-17) owned a 27-21 lead over the Ramblers at halftime, expanded its lead to double digits during the first three minutes of the third quarter and led by as many as 21 before thinking about today’s noon quarterfinal match-up against top-seeded defending tournament champion Drake.
"Another day, another challenge," Rees said.
Jessica Cerda led Loyola (7-23) with 11 points in a game that saw the Crusaders turn 16 turnovers by the Ramblers into 20 points.
"That wasn’t the team I’ve seen the last 10 games," Loyola coach Kate Achter said. "We held the ball, didn’t move on offense and didn’t go inside the way we have been. We’re a better team than we showed."