A Season to Remember
For four months, nobody could beat the George Fox women’s basketball team – until a heart-wrenching injury to the Bruins’ star center thwarted the team’s quest for a national championship
by Sean Patterson
It didn’t include a storybook ending, but the 2011-12 season was one the George Fox women’s basketball team and its supporters won’t soon forget. For four months, the Bruins didn’t lose a single game, routinely beating opponents by double digits. Living up to a No. 3 national ranking, George Fox went a perfect 16-0 in Northwest Conference play en route to a sixth straight NWC title, beating league foes by an average of 20.7 points in the process.
Then came thrilling victories in the postseason – most notably a 52-50 defeat of rival Lewis & Clark in the second round of the NCAA Division III National Tournament and a 76-69 victory over the nation’s top-ranked team, Amherst College (Mass.), in the Final Four semifinals.
The victories were memorable for different reasons: The former came when a banked-in Lewis & Clark three-pointer was waved off for coming after the buzzer, and the latter ended defending national champ Amherst’s 50-game win streak.
Sandwiched in between were one-sided victories over Bowdoin College of Maine (71-55, in a Sweet 16 matchup) and Mary Washington (68-45, in an Elite 8 game). Suddenly, at 32-0 and with the top team behind them, it was looking more and more like the Bruins might match the magic of 2008-09, when George Fox went unbeaten to win the program’s first national title.
But it wasn’t to be.
A resilient effort notwithstanding, the Bruins succumbed 57-48 to Illinois Wesleyan in the championship game, contested on the campus of Hope College in Holland, Mich., on March 17. Remarkably, George Fox hung with the Titans to the very end despite playing without 6-foot-5 All-American center Hannah Munger most of the night.
Munger, whose career-high 36 points and 13 rebounds overwhelmed Amherst the day before, collapsed with a knee injury after colliding with Illinois Wesleyan’s Olivia Lett just eight minutes into the game. As Munger was helped from the court, the DeVos Fieldhouse fell silent. “It took us a while to gather ourselves after Hannah went down,” said second-year head coach Michael Meek. “There was an emotional toll, but I couldn’t be any more proud of how we responded in the second half and made it a game again.”
Munger, on the bench with her right leg heavily bandaged, watched her teammates put together a 13-0 run midway through the second half to turn a 41-34 deficit into a 47-41 lead with just over five minutes to play. Leading the charge was senior forward Keisha Gordon, who scored nine of her team-high 17 points during the outburst.
Unfortunately, George Fox could only manage one point the rest of the way, and the team didn’t have an answer for Lett, an All-American guard who scored 11 of her team’s final 16 points on her way to a game-high 22 points.
As Gordon reflected on her final season, however, she wasn’t dwelling on the loss. Instead, one word came to mind.
“Blessed,” she said. “Blessed is the word I’d use to describe this journey – everything about it. I’m just so incredibly blessed.”
Perhaps there is no better way to put it. In the past four years, George Fox has gone a remarkable 117-10 and reached the Elite 8 of the national tournament each year – and the Final Four twice.
“The hardest part of the season ending is knowing we won’t be seeing each other as much,” added Gordon. “The relationships between each of the players and coaches is what made this team so special.”