An emotional day for the St. Ambrose women's basketball program ended in an emotional high Saturday at Lee Lohman Arena.
The Queen Bees attended funeral services in Lost Nation, Iowa, on Saturday morning to support senior teammate Mary Burmeister, whose father, Tim, a regular at home games the past three-plus seasons, died Wednesday.
After what coach Krista Van Hauen described as a quiet ride home from the funeral, the grieving Bees turned their focus to the court. Led by star Ali Dolphin and a dominant bench, No. 12 St. Ambrose earned an 82-72 victory over No. 16 Iowa Wesleyan in the semifinals of the Midwest Collegiate Conference tournament.
The top-seeded Queen Bees (27-4) improved to 16-0 on their home court and will host No. 3 seed William Penn in Monday's championship game.
"You never know how they're going to come out," Van Hauen said. "I was a little worried. I just said we're playing for Mary to get her back here on Monday night hopefully with us and be a part of our team and take her to nationals.
"That's why we win, because we're a team and we're so close."
Van Hauen said she was particularly concerned about Dolphin, who is roommates with Mary.
Turns out, the coach didn't need to worry at all.
The senior played inspired basketball, scoring a game-high 28 points to go with eight rebounds and six steals. Dolphin shot 11-of-16 from the floor in her third monster game this season against the rival Tigers, all Bees victories.
"Today was definitely hard across the board for every single one of us," Dolphin said. "We really came together tonight, left the funeral and the situation in the locker room. When we hit the court, we knew we had Wesleyan and we knew we had to win it for the Burmeister family."
When Iowa Wesleyan cut a nine-point deficit to 61-60 with 5 minutes, 44 seconds to play, Dolphin scored three straight baskets to spark an 8-0 run. Wesleyan never came closer than five points the rest of the way.
"(Dolphin) played for a purpose, and I couldn't be happier for her and the team," Van Hauen said.
The St. Ambrose reserves outscored Iowa Wesleyan's bench 29-2, led by Annie Smith (11 points) and Megan Cash (nine).
Smith, the tallest player on the floor at 6-foot-2, buried three 3-pointers, including back-to-back 3s that were part of a 14-4 Bees run to end the first half.
"I've been struggling, so it's nice to finally hit a couple," Smith said.
St. Ambrose was able to wear down the Tigers' limited rotation. Leading scorer Melanie McCreight started hot but finished just 5 of 19 from the floor on the way to a team-high 22 points, eight of which came late with the Tigers in desperation mode.
Iowa Wesleyan (22-8) shot just 36.5 percent and finished with 21 turnovers.
"We just kept running fresh bodies at them, and I thought that was huge," Van Hauen said. "That's why we're successful this year because it's a team effort and we can go deep into our bench."