The William Jewell College men’s and women’s basketball teams competed Sunday, March 1 in the first round of the Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) tournament. Only the top 12 of the 16 GLVC teams make the tournament. This year marks the third year in a row both teams qualified.
Both teams have appeared at the tournament each year since the transition to NCAA Division II in the academic year ending spring 2013.
The women’s team received the number seven seed in the tournament and hosted 10th seeded Maryville University Saints in the Mabee Center. The Cardinals hit a 3-pointer to start the game, but that was the only lead they would see on the day. The Saints shot 55 percent from the field in the first half. Jewell’s six 3-pointers in the first half helped keep them in the game, trailing by a score of only 46-41 at halftime. The Cardinals went cold from beyond the arc in the second half going 1-14. The Cardinals continued to battle but came up short with a final score of 79-75. The women ended the season with a final record of 15-12 (10-8).
“Our pressure was pretty good. No matter how much pressure we put on them they were making a lot [of shots],” Hayli Jo Smith, senior, said. “I would have loved to win. I don’t think we went out on a bad note, though. We worked hard. We fought. It was a battle.”
The men received the number nine seed in the tournament and traveled to St. Louis, Mo., to take on the number eight seed University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL). The Cardinals shot 51 percent from the field in the first half and led the game 41-40 at halftime. Jewell went scoreless for six minutes in the second half to allow UMSL to gain a 14-point lead with 12 minutes left in the game. The Cardinals chipped away at the lead and trailed by only three points with 3:39 left to go in the game. UMSL scored on their next three possessions, forcing Jewell to foul and allowing UMSL to extend their lead. The final score was 80-68. The men finished the season with a record of 13-14 (9-9).
“It was a back and forth battle all game. We played well. We fought hard. They just had a little more firepower than us that day,” Jordan Lewis, senior, said.
Although both teams’ seasons ended in the first round of the GLVC Championship Tournament, Smith said the Jewell basketball program as a whole is on track for success.
“I definitely feel like [the women’s basketball program] is moving in the right direction. I feel like the girls that [Head Basketball Coach Cress] has now have the potential to keep going in the right direction. Coach Cress knows how to put a program in a great situation to win,” Smith said.
Lewis expressed his excitement for the future of the men’s team.
“We kind of all bought in. The seniors and some of our veterans kind of showed the younger guys what it means to really buy in and trust one another, but also trust the coaching staff,” Lewis said. “I’m excited to see what the younger guys can do in the years coming up. I think they have what it takes to bring this program into more of a winning program in the years to come.”
Two members of the Jewell basketball teams made GLVC All-Conference teams. For the women, Aerial Smith, senior, made 1st team all-conference by unanimous decision and the all-defensive team. For the men, D’Vante Mosby, sophomore, made 2nd team all-conference.
The men will lose four seniors: Jordan Lewis, Cyril Bilong, Christian Hildebrandt and Clint McCullough. These players provided almost 47 percent of the total scoring for the men this season.
This offseason, the Cardinal women will look to replace two seniors: four-year starting point guard Aerial Smith and starter Hayli Jo Smith. Aerial averaged 13.6 points per game (ppg) and 4.6 assists per game while Hayli Jo Smith contributed 10.4 ppg.
Hayli Jo Smith and Lewis are satisfied with the time they have spent on the Hill, both in the classroom and on the court.
“Being in this area and being at Jewell has opened me up to so many new things and new opportunities,” Hayli Jo Smith said. “To further my career here in basketball and to get my education was one of the biggest steps I’ve taken in my life.”
Lewis acknowledged the challenge of being a student-athlete at WJC.
“It wasn’t always easy. Like any player I had ups and downs. Overall, I’m definitely pleased with individually how I stuck it out and continued to work. That’s kind of what I like to be about: overcoming adversity,” Lewis said. “If you’re prepared for when you get your opportunity and you work, then good things are going to happen.”