by Tim Miller
The field of 64 teams that make it to the NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament was released tonight, and the Cedarville Lady Jackets did not make the cut to be one of eight teams that represent the Midwest Region this March. The Lady Jackets were likely the first team out of the region, with only the top eight teams being released.
The makeup of the national tournament is divided into eight regions of eight teams. Cedarville (24-6, 18-4 G-MAC) had been ranked sixth in each of the last three releases of the NCAA Division II Midwest Region rankings. The Lady Jackets were upset by Hillsdale in the G-MAC Tournament semifinal on Friday, and Hillsdale went on to win the tournament, clinching an automatic bid.
Hillsdale hadn’t appeared in the regional rankings all season, and by winning the conference, the Chargers’ automatic bid likely caused a team that was expected to make it to the tournament to be snubbed. Cedarville likely would’ve been in the tournament had Hillsdale lost in the G-MAC Tournament championship on Saturday.
It’s safe to assume the final spot in the region came down to Findlay and Cedarville. G-MAC foes, Findlay defeated Cedarville in each of their meetings this season. However, Cedarville was still ranked two slots ahead of Findlay, even with two head-to-head losses to the Oilers already in the books. Findlay and Cedarville both lost to Hillsdale in the G-MAC Tournament, with Cedarville’s loss coming in the semifinal round, while Findlay’s came just one round after in the final.
Simply due to the fate of seeding, Cedarville lost to Hillsdale one round before Findlay did.
Somehow, it is fair to assume that Findlay’s loss in the finals to Hillsdale carried enough weight to push the Oilers two spots past Cedarville in the final rankings.
Lady Jackets’ Year in Review
The Lady Jackets finished the season with their best record since the 2014-15 season. Cedarville picked up gleaming conference recognitions with Kari Hoffman earning Coach of the Year in just her second season at the helm.
Hoffman guided Cedarville as to the No. 5 spot nationally in field goal percentage and to the No. 2 slot nationally in 3-point percentage. The Lady Jackets were also one of just two teams to lose to No. 1 and undefeated Ashland by less than 10 points this season, proving Cedarville was a national powerhouse that may be the biggest snub of the tournament.
The Lady Jackets also won the G-MAC regular season title and hosted the conference tournament.
Junior guards Regina Hochstetler and Baylee Bennett also earned first-team all conference selections, while senior Breanne Watterworth was named a conference honorable mention.
Hochstetler suffered a torn ACL on Feb. 1, which ended her season. The standout guard was a force offensively, averaging 17.8 points per game and leading the team in scoring in 13 of the 20 games prior to her injury. The 5-7 sharpshooter scored 36 points against Ohio Dominican on Jan. 6.
Bennett, a native of Springfield, Ohio, stepped into the role of leading scorer after Hochstetler’s injury. Hochstetler and Bennett were a potent pair for the Lady Jackets, and Bennett was able to get more touches to lead the offense in the final nine games of the season.
In the first game after Hochstetler’s injury, Bennett lit up Trevecca for 35 points and a school and conference-record 11 3-pointers. Bennett also broke the school-record for most triples in a season with 109, taking the title away from Hoffman, who set the mark in the 2003-04 season for Cedarville.
Bennett averaged 14.2 points per game and put 47 percent of her 3-point attempts through the hoop this season. Bennett was the leader in the entire NCAA Division II in made triples this season and was fourth in 3-point percentage.
One of four seniors on the team, Watterworth was a force in the paint this season. The 6-3 senior finished tenth in the NCAA Division II in field goal percentage, making 60 percent of her shots. Watterworth averaged 16 points per game in her final nine and scored 30 points against Davis & Elkins on Feb. 22. The Lake Orion, Michigan native turned in eight double-doubles this season and reached double-digit rebounding totals on 12 occasions.
In her career, Watterworth played in 2,800 minutes and scored 1,124 points. Watterworth also managed 829 rebounds in her storied career with Cedarville.
Cedarville will also say goodbye to seniors Taylor Buckley, Kaitlyn Holm, and Emily Williams. All four seniors were key in the Lady Jackets’ successful 2017-18 season.
Buckley, a forward, was a rebounding machine with Cedarville. Standing at 5-11, Buckley was able to position herself to pull down rebounds with unrelenting effort throughout the course of the season. Against Ashland on Nov. 11, Buckley scored 20 points and corralled 12 rebounds, seven of which were cleaned off the offensive glass.
Buckley may not have been an offensive scoring threat that teams devoted time to shutting down, but the West Greenwich, Rhode Island native gave the Lady Jackets a spark off the bench and provided Cedarville many extra chances with her tenacity on the offensive boards.
Holm was a scrappy player for the Lady Jackets who stuffed the stat sheet. The senior averaged 11.2 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game, and 3.1 assists per game this season. Holm’s most complete performance may have been her effort against Ursuline on Feb. 15, as she scored 11 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and handed out seven assists. Holm served as one of three captains for the Lady Jackets this season.
The final senior, Williams, missed five games this season due to an ankle injury. However, when paired with Watterworth on the floor, the two were often referred to as the glue for the Lady Jackets. Williams averaged 3.8 points per game and added 4.9 rebounds per game, but her impact came in ways that couldn’t be displayed in the stat sheet. Hoffman praised Williams throughout the year for her value as a leader on the court. Williams had a double-double against Trevecca on Dec. 7, scoring 11 points and wrangled 10 rebounds.
The Lady Jackets return Bennett and Hochstetler next season, as Hochstetler says she expects to be back well before the season begins.
Along with that, freshmen Ashlyn Huffman (8.4 points per game, 3.2 assists per game) and Stevie Johnting (45 percent from the 3-point line) return for their sophomore campaigns next season. Huffman stepped into the lineup halfway through the year and scored a career-high 22 points against Lake Erie on Feb. 17. Johnting surprised her teammates and coaches with her proficiency from behind the arc this season as a marksman for the Lady Jackets.
Tim Miller is a sophomore marketing major and sports editor for Cedars. He enjoys having a baby face, sipping Dunkin Donuts coffee and striving to be the optimal combination of Dwight Schrute and Ron Swanson.
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