The St. Ambrose Queen Bees did a pretty good job of setting up goals and knocking them down this season.
Midwest Collegiate Conference title? Check.
MCC postseason title? Check.
Perfect record at Lee Lohman Arena? Check.
Return to the NAIA Division II Championships for the first time since 2007? Check.
But not checkmate.
“Our goal was to make the national tournament,” first-year coach Krista Van Hauen said as she prepared to lead her third-seeded crew into first-round action at 5:15 p.m. today vs. sixth-seeded Mt. Vernon Nazarene (21-8) in Sioux City, Iowa. “We made a new goal (last week). All the girls are in on it. Our goal now is to make it to the Final Four.”
If the 10th-ranked Bees (28-4) are going to make that happen, they are going to have to slow a group of Cougars from Mt. Vernon, Ohio.
Coach Steve Gregory’s Nazarene crew averaged 77.4 points per game this season, twice scoring in triple figures, besting 90 two times more and exceeding 80 15 times.
The No. 24 Cougars finished fifth in the American Mideast Conference and are one of four AMC teams to make the NAIA field.
“They have probably been told they shouldn’t be in the national tournament,” Van Hauen said of the at-large entry. “So they are probably going to use that as motivation. Come try to make some damage, try to knock us out. We have to take them seriously.”
That shouldn’t be an issue, considering the Bees are led by determined Ali Dolphin, who is looking to end one of the most accomplished careers in Queen Bees history on a high note.
“The last couple of weeks, she is playing like she doesn’t want her
season to end,” Van Hauen said of the 5-foot-10 forward who averaged 20 points and 10.5 rebounds in the season’s final five games after averaging 14.8 and 9.4 in the first 27.
The only four-time All-MCC first-team selection in Queen Bees history, Dolphin will complete her career as the school’s No. 2 all-time scorer and needs 10 steals and 43 assists in Sioux City to leave as the all-time leader in those categories.
Fifth in all-time rebounding, she needs 47 boards to pass her former assistant coach Jennifer Goetz for third.
Whatever the final count, the standout from Marshalltown, Iowa, likely will be remembered as the most versatile Queen Bee ever.
Dolphin’s only mission is to play four more games. And why not make it five, culminating with Tuesday’s title tilt?
“We’re basically going in with mental toughness,” Dolphin said. “Team chemistry. Playing together. Working hard. Kind of the whole basketball realm.”
Interestingly, the last six words describe Dolphin in a nutshell.