BILLINGS – MSU Billings women’s basketball coach Kevin Woodin isn’t afraid to say it. With a game on the line, he’s still a bundle of nerves.
Especially when it comes to inbound plays and free throws.
“I basically don’t look,” smiled Woodin before a recent practice. “I think I’m too nervous. I just look the other way.”
Woodin is a three-time coach of the year, two of them in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC). He‘s been around. He’s seen a lot.
But on Saturday night in Alaska when freshman Hannah Collins stepped to the line for late-game free throws — with MSUB’s first GNAC Tournament Championship in the balance — naturally, Woodin wasn’t the only one nail-biting.
“We even asked her about it afterwards,” recalled junior forward Vanessa Stavish. “We were like, ‘Were you freaking out? We would’ve been freaking out.’ She was like, ‘I wasn’t freaking out about that. I was freaking out about defense.'”
The freshman buried four critical free throws down the stretch, with Woodin glancing away from each.
“Just think, ‘Legs, arch, follow-through,'” Collins said. “Just like my dad always taught me, so just thinking those three things helped me.”
Her dad happened to be in Anchorage watching, which she said also helped.
Beyond simply writing history with their first GNAC Tournament title, the Yellowjackets did it on a floor that’s never been kind.
“A lot of us have never won on that court, so to get three wins in one weekend was amazing,” said Stavish.
“Then after we won, it was just sigh of relief, we got emotional,” grinned guard Lexi Prevost. “It was so fun, though, it was unbelievable.”
Role players like Rachael Koehler kicked in with gutsy minutes, scoring and defensive presence. Red Lodge native Rylee Kane, battling a month-long cold, was time and again clutch down the stretch of multiple tournament wins. And GNAC Player of the Year/Tournament MVP Alicia Breen played every minute of every game for three straight days.
“I just tell her I’m sorry afterwards,” Woodin smiled. “But she’s just that important and we need her on the floor. I asked her several times if she wants out to let me know, but she doesn’t.”
As a No. 4 seed on paper, the Jackets may have been underdogs. But they knocked off the Nos. 5, 3 and 1 seeds, clearly finishing as top dogs.
Much like the ones they were treated to early on championship Saturday.
It just so happened that the starting line for the world’s most famous sled dog race — the Iditarod — was walking distance from MSUB’s hotel.
“We were like, ‘Do we do it?’ It’s a different (game day) routine, you know,” Stavish said. “But it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it was two blocks from our hotel. You just walked down the street and started seeing the dogs.”
“We saw a bunch of dogs,” Collins said. “They were with their owners. We got to see some of the starts and it was really fun.”
“We got to see a lot of behind-the-scenes. Even the dogs were different,” marveled Prevost. “I was expecting these huskies, fluffy and big. But they were these little scrawny dogs. We got to see how they traveled and everything. It was so cool.”
“We just planned our championship day, our scouting around it. It was fun,” said Woodin. “A lot of dogs barking, but it was pretty cool to say you were there.”
The No. 7-seeded Yellowjackets open the NCAA II West Regional Friday against No. 2 Hawaii Pacific at 3:30 p.m. MST.
2018 NCAA D2 West Region Championships Schedule
Felix Events Center | Azusa Pacific University | Azusa, California | All Times Listed as Pacific Standard Time
Friday, March 9 – Quarterfinals
Game 1 – 12 PM – #6 Seattle Pacific vs. #3 UC San Diego
Game 2 – 2:30 PM – #7 MSU Billings vs. #2 Hawaii Pacific
Game 3 – 5 PM – #5 Alaska Anchorage vs. #4 Northwest Nazarene
Game 4 – 7:30 PM – #8 Humboldt State vs. #1 Azusa Pacific
Saturday, March 10 – Semifinals
Game 5 – 5 PM – Game 1 Winner vs. Game 2 Winner
Game 6 – 7:30 PM – Game 3 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner
Monday, March 12 – Championship
Game 7 – 7 PM – Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner