Wildcats sit atop HAAC standings

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Wildcats sit atop HAAC standings

Story by Sara Bell, Editor

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When the No. 20 Baker University women’s basketball team upset the NAIA’s fourth-ranked team on Jan. 30, the Wildcats knew they had accomplished something special.

Not only did the 84-72 victory over MidAmerica Nazarene University push the team’s win streak to seven games, but it also ended a 10-year losing streak to the Heart of America Athletic Conference rival and put BU in a tie with the Pioneers for first place in league play. The Wildcats also climbed to No. 18 in the NAIA top 25 poll following the win.

“It’s humbling to accomplish those types of things and it’s hard to grasp the significance of it at that moment,” head coach Ben Lister said. “We have other special things we are trying to accomplish this year. We don’t want that to be the high point of the season.”

Prior to the top-20 matchup, senior Shea Shoemaker told fellow senior BriAnna Garza, “We are not losing this game.” It was that drive that inspired Garza to play even harder, which then spread to the rest of the team.

“I’ve never seen my teammates so focused,” Garza said. “We were all just so focused and so determined that I can’t imagine any team losing with that amount of focus and that amount of determination.”

BU trailed by three points at halftime, but a standout night by sophomore Macy Wallisch pushed the Wildcats to outscore MNU by 15 after the break.

Wallisch saved the best game of her career for the Pioneers, leading the Wildcats’ second-half comeback with 22 points. Lister said the 6-foot-3 inch center, who ranks fifth in the NAIA in average blocks per game and total blocks, has “stepped out of the shadows” and elevated her game this season.

Garza, who posted 21 points and nine assists against MNU, also acknowledged Wallisch’s impact and the depth she brings to the program.

“Macy Wallisch has stepped up so much during the second half of the season. We are all so proud of her,” Garza said. “She puts in work, she really does. Every practice, she pushes through and she really is an x-factor this year.”

Lister and senior Ciarra Washington agreed it’s the Wildcats’ depth and maturity that have put the team in position to compete for a conference championship.

“We don’t have just five players who are good and can help us win,” Washington said. “Everybody contributes and helps us succeed.”

It didn’t take long for the Wildcats to build on their achievements following the MidAmerica Nazarene upset.

Just two days later, the team claimed a 65-64 thriller over Central Methodist University in Collins Center. The Wildcats trailed at halftime once again on Saturday, but double-digit performances from Garza and Shoemaker powered BU to the one-point victory.

With the win, BU improved to 17-5 on the season and 10-1 in HAAC play. And after MNU fell to the 4-15 Culver-Stockton College Wildcats on Monday, BU claimed sole possession of the top spot in the conference standings.

“I think we felt like we had the ability to do that if we showed up and played at a high level, and we’ve been able to do that so far,” Lister said. “We’re very excited to see some of the things we’re accomplishing right now, and to be able to give ourselves a chance to compete to win a conference title is what our goal has been from the beginning of the year.”

Seven games are all that stand in the way of the Wildcats’ first banner season since 1983.

“We have a really opportunity to accomplish something significant, and I think the girls know that,” Lister said. “It’s going to be us being able to keep that balance between the excitement of that and keeping the mental preparation in order for us to be successful each time we take the floor.”