Women’s Basketball Defeats Elmhurst

February 16, 2023

The Millikin women’s basketball team won its third straight regular season College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) title in dominating fashion last night, defeating Elmhurst 101-28.

The team is now 14-1 in conference play and 20-4 overall. 

The win was powered by the top scorer in the conference, junior guard Elyce Knudsen, with 20 points, averaging 23 per game on the year. Three more Millikin players joined Knudsen with 15+ points, including Sarah Isaf with 17, and Bailey Coffman and Chelsea McCullum each with 15. The team has one more conference game to close out the regular season, traveling to Carroll University on Saturday.

When asked about the mindset going into conference play this season, Knudsen said “We knew the target was going to be on our back because we were returning a lot of our key players from last year. The main focus was just seeing how well we meshed together since our lineup changed.” 

The lineup change was not only due to losing three major players from the 2021-22 season, but also due to injury. The Big Blue saw a sprained ankle, a stress fracture, and a broken jaw this year in their varsity lineup that forced them to make some changes. 

“No team wants to see one of their key players injured. It was definitely a setback, but we knew each one of us had to take on a bigger role than the previous role we had,” said Knudsen. “These losses helped us realize what needed to be done to make sure we were on top for the rest of the year.” 

The team did not let the slow start affect the rest of their season. After a tough overtime loss to Washington University on November 19, they won 14 straight games before falling to Wheaton College on February 4. Wheaton is the team’s only conference loss of the season, and they quickly bounced back, defeating Illinois Wesleyan and Carthage College a week later. 

The Big Blue has shown a strong outing in conference this year, averaging 73.9 points per game, while holding their opponents to only 53.6. Millikin is first in offense and second in defense for the CCIW, while also ranking first as a team in 3-point field goal percentage and steals per game. Individually, the team has players on the leaderboard for every category, the top ones being Knudsen at the number one spot for scoring, and senior guard Chelsea McCullum is second in steals. 

“I think the senior class has created the culture that we have, so it’s nice for them to be able to go out with an undisputed conference title because they are phenomenal women that have changed this program,” head coach Olivia Lett said. “They have made it about working hard and making that the cool thing to do, to go out there and give everything you’ve got on every single possession.”

The team has five seniors, all of which have consistently played this season, and have each had to overcome setbacks due to Covid and season-ending injuries. Senior forward Abby Ratsch tore her ACL at the start of her junior season, but came back this year as part of the starting lineup.

“It’s been amazing,” Ratsch said. “It’s so cool to see how my senior class has helped turn this program around where we now expect conference titles and so much success. It makes all the hard times worth it.” 

The Big Blue are nationally ranked in two polls, ranking 23rd in the latest Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) poll for Division III NCAA women’s basketball, and 25th in the Top 25 Poll released by D3hoops.com. With last night’s win, they are now seeded first in the postseason tournament, and will host the final four games and the championship on February 4 and 5. The team will play at 7 PM on Friday, and the championship will be Saturday at 7 PM. If they win, they advance to the NCAA tournament. If they lose, the selection show for the NCAA tournament is the following Monday, February 27, and the Big Blue has high hopes of receiving an at-large bid if they do not secure an automatic one with the conference championship. 

Coach Olivia Lett is not one to get complacent, as she comments on the final game of the regular season. 

“We’ve still got one more game up at Carroll to get, and I think that game is important because that’s a team we could face in the championship,” she said. 

Last year, Millikin hosted Illinois Wesleyan for the conference championship game and lost, which is an outcome they are looking to change in this upcoming tournament.

“I think anybody could beat anybody in the tournament, it’s a deep conference this year so it is nice to have home court advantage, because I think our fans are unbelievable and I do think it’s a big advantage for us. We’re extra motivated this year to make sure somebody else doesn’t cut the nets on our home court,” Lett said.

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