by Eva Dean Folkert
In a scrappy game in which her team never trailed, against an opponent that she — or the Flying Dutch — hadn't ever faced before, junior guard Victoria Swift was calm and unflappable, especially as a nervous energy swirled around her with 1,968 excited fans in DeVos Fieldhouse.
But Swift's level-headedness — and her eight points in nine minutes of first-half play — provided the chill needed to put the fourth-ranked Hope women's basketball team on its way to a dominant and gritty 75-50 win over Cornell College (Iowa) in the first round of NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Championship game on Friday night.
Hope, 27-1 and making their 19th NCAA tournament appearance, moves onto play Washington University in St. Louis — a 75-57 first-game winner over Wheaton (Ill.) College — in the second round tomorrow at 7:00 pm in DeVos. The Bears are 19-7 on the season.
"I think what Vic brought to the table tonight was this sense of calm," said head coach Brian Morehouse of Swift, pictured. "Vic doesn't get sped up… She just has this calming influence and because she has so much confidence and calm, when the game is going at a frenzied pace, which it was in the first half for a lot of the time, she just slows the game down."
Explained Swift of her demeanor and play, "There's a lot of confidence that comes from knowing my coaches support me, from knowing my teammates support me, and honestly, I believe in this team so much that I don't get scared or nervous or buy into the crowd when things go up and down. Because I know, give us 40 minutes and we got this."
Cornell College (20-6) — the Midwest Conference regular season and tournament champs — made Hope earn everything they got over 40 minutes. It took close to three minutes for Hope's first field goal to fall from junior forward Francesa Buchanan of Grant, Michigan (Sparta HS) at the 7:13 mark. Cornell didn't get on the board until senior Diamond Boyd made a jump shot at 5:51.
But within the contest's fast pace and due to Hope's strong rebounding, the Flying Dutch had opened a 10-point lead, 12-2, with 3:49 left in the first quarter off a Swift three-pointer from a Kenedy Schoonveld assist.
"I thought that Cornell presented a lot of different challenges for us with their matchup zone in particular," Morehouse explained. "I thought it gave us fits early on and kept them in the ball game. But I think our kids were resilient and we kept battling and found different ways to score against their matchup zone and executed really well in the second half."
Near the end of the first half, Hope would open up its largest lead to 14 points, 35-21, when Swift hit a jumper with seven seconds left. But it didn't last long. A dead-on, swishing 40-foot shot at the buzzer by the Rams ended the second quarter, just like the one they put up that went down from near half-court that ended the first. Those two first-half, half-court, three-point shots comprised a quarter of Cornell's point total but Hope led, 35-24, after two periods.
In the second half, the Flying Dutch found their rhythm by slowing the game down and grinding out more possessions. Buchanan, now in the exclusive 1000-point-club after having reached and exceeded that milestone in the MIAA Championships game against Trine, ended the game with 15 points and 10 rebounds, her sixth double-double of the season.
Now with 1021 career points, Buchanan is in 14th place on the Hope women's basketball all-time scoring list.
"I don't get a double-double unless someone is passing it to me and I don't get those rebounds if someone on my team is not boxing out or if I'm not boxing out, so a lot of what I do goes back to my team," Buchanan said. "They work, I work hard, and we saw it today. When you work hard and do what you're supposed to do, you win a game."
Hope's largest lead grew to 28 points, 75-47, in the final period when freshman Ashleigh Thomas of Shelby Township, Michigan (Lutheran North HS) scored in the paint with 48 seconds left.
Every Hope players saw the floor with 12 members of the team scoring. While Buchanan led Hope in points and rebounds, she was followed by Swift and senior Madison Geers of Scottville, Michigan (Mason Co. Central HS) with nine points each while former Holland Christian teammates freshman Schoonveld of Zeeland, Michigan and freshman Olivia Voskuil of Holland, Michigan each grabbed eight rebounds.
Cornell's Boyd topped the Rams' stats with 18 points and eight rebounds.
The Flying Dutch's next-up matchup with the Bears of WashU on Saturday is not a new showdown like this game was against Cornell. Hope has played WashU five times and won twice. Their last meeting with the Bears was in the second round of the 2011 NCAA tournament which the Bears won, 56-52.