Record season comes to end for women’s team

Freshman guard Emma Wallen shoots a jump shot against Valdosta State Feb. 18 at Flowers Hall. Wallen broke the school record for three-point field goals in a season with 73.

Despite the 2016-17 season coming to an end in a heartbreaking last-second loss at West Georgia 60-57 in the Gulf South Conference tournament, North Alabama women’s basketball coach Missy Tiber said this season was an integral year for establishing a consistent winning program.

UNA finished the season 19-10 overall and 13-9 GSC record after posting a 5-22 overall record the previous year.

“I’m just real proud of what we accomplished this year,” Tiber said. “Our goal this year was to start taking the steps to become a winning team. I sure would’ve liked to have gotten 20 wins this season, and there were a few games we could’ve won, but that doesn’t take away how proud I am of this team.”

The finale at West Georgia ended with controversy. With 9.6 seconds remaining, sophomore forward Katelyn Nunley nailed two free throws to put the Lions up 57-56. Then, on the Wolves’ inbound, junior guard Jaclyn Heath was called for an intentional foul that led to UWG hitting one of two free throws to tie the game at 57. Tiber received a technical foul for arguing the call on Heath, and the Wolves hit all three free throws to put them over the top.

“I guess we fouled a little too hard, but I didn’t think that was the case,” Tiber said. “Unfortunately, after that I got a technical, and I need to be better about that. I really felt we had a bad break. I didn’t really yell at him, I just said my peace to him.

“I told the girls after the game ‘I feel like as coaches, we made a lot of good decisions during the game to put us in a position to win, and unfortunately I made a bad one at the end.’”

Instead of focusing on the controversial exit from the GSC tournament, Tiber said she urged the players to look back on the season with confidence of the future.

The Lions expect everyone from this year’s team back for the 2017-18 season as there are no seniors on the young team.

Juniors KeKe Gunter and Heath will return for their senior season and will be the first players to spend all four seasons with Tiber as head coach.

Tiber said Gunter and Heath, along with junior forward Michaela DeKilder will bring excitement and leadership to next year’s team.

The Lions will also return the breakout stars of the season, the Wallen sisters, for their sophomore seasons.

Ivy Wallen was not only the Lions’ leading scorer this season, but also the GSC’s leading scorer with 19.9 points per game en route to being named the GSC Freshman of the Year.

Her sister Emma Wallen also lit up the scoreboard during her freshman campaign. Wallen broke the school record of 70 three-point field goals with 76 during the season, despite beginning the season as a bench rotation player. The previous record had stood for 20 years.

Other key returnees include sophomores Elise and Brynn Holden, Savannah Stults and redshirt freshman Madelyn Lindsey.