Lake Forest whittled in womens’ basketball

When the dust had settled, and the bruises from many a thrown elbow had purpled, the Viking Women’s basketball team emerged fatigued but joyfully triumphant, with a 75-60 victory over the Lake Forest College Foresters, an adversary who had long dominated the matchup — 14 consecutive seasons, to be precise. It was a game won in the paint and at the free-throw. What made the win all the more impressive was just how much better than their opponent the Vikings appeared throughout the game. 

The game’s first minutes were scoreless, with Lawrence and Lake Forest trading jabs — to shamelessly borrow a boxing term. Lawrence’s Kenya Earl eventually put the first points on the board from the free-throw line, a location which she would return to often, ultimately going 10 for 14 from the stripe. 

If readers have never watched Kenya play, they do themselves a disservice. Inarguable MVP, Lawrence’s record-holder for scoring, and the axis of this Viking squad, Kenya weaponizes a fabulously smooth shooting motion that is a wonder to behold. When she does occasionally miss, one can be forgiven for taking offense at the basket for not being in the correct place. 

Honored before the game for her career accomplishments in a blue and white uniform, Kenya played a dominant game against a pair of formidable — some might say hulking — Lake Forest centers. Queried post-game about winning in the paint, Earl shared her mental preparation before and during the contest to establish proper positioning and leverage over her adversaries. Despite Lake Forest’s concerted effort to box her out from impacting the game, Earl apprehended 15 rebounds and tossed in 23 points.

From the initial jump ball to the final whistle, the Viking Women looked, collectively, more composed, smooth, and cohesive than their opposites, despite constant adversity in the form of a Lake Forest full-court press. For those uninitiated in the mystical lexicon of basketball, a full-court press is a scheme that has a defending squad attack the offense the entire length of the court in an attempt to elicit turnovers from an offense’s frantic passes and dribblers getting trapped in corners. An offense so-oppressed gets no breathers and often withers under such constant pressure. 

To overcome the press demands phenomenal teamwork with crisp, efficient passing that forces the defense to run hither and yon — eventually exhausting them. Lawrence’s guard, Ashley Batac, was an integral part of busting the floor open, with an enviable ability to dribble around defenders while scanning for teammates down and across the court. While her stat sheet was middling — 7-3-3 going 2 of 15 from the field — her qualitative contribution to the Vikings’ press-defeating movement was profound in the contest. 

Asked after the game about their strategy to beat the press, Batac shared that through aggression and teamwork, the Vikings pushed the ball upcourt at such speed that it forced Lake Forest to foul Lawrence shooters who made Lake Forest pay for their hackery from the line — going 20 for 31 on the night. Indeed, Lawrence’s ability to beat the press set up a double-digit lead in the second quarter, a deficit from which Lake Forest never recovered.

The Vikings’ starting five and the bench kept a quality tempo that Lake Forest could not match. G Delaney Brooks possessed a hot hand from the three-point arc, knocking home teardrop dimes that visibly deflated Lake Forest momentum in crucial moments and dished the rock to teammates for team-high five assists. G Maggie Culver maximized her 25 minutes, contributing 16 points and ripping eight rebounds. This writer suggests you mind your nose if challenging Culver for a ball, as you’re likely to be spurting blood and laid out flat on your back in short order, should you not heed the advice. Woman-to-woman and squad-to-squad, Lawrence was self-evidently superior. 

All of this is not to say Lake Forest was devoid of playmakers. The Foresters had skillful players at the top of their roster. C Annie Lally, G Katie Neher, and G Maurissa Edwards were interminable dangers to the Lawrence lead. Lally rumbled with Kenya in the paint the night through, occasionally winning repeated rebounds. Neher was a slippery and sharp threat from the wings, forcing Lawrence to play arduous, confrontational defense to put Neher off her shot. A brilliant point guard who scored a team-high 21 points, Edwards was perfect from the free-throw line, going 9 for 9. Unfortunately for Lake Forest, Lawrence has depth at the 4, 5, and 6 positions that it could not match.

There was a period in the third that Lake Forest brought it within eight with 03:54 remaining in the quarter, but the Lawrence women would not be denied a hardwon win. The final score read 75-60. In a post-game interview, Coach Riley Woldt stressed his squad’s strong defensive effort. The statistics agreed, with the Lady Vikings snatching 9 steals and forcing 17 total turnovers. Lake Forest shot a paltry 30.5% a full ten percentage points less than the Vikings’ 40.7%.

The Vikings have the opportunity to pillage Knox College Tuesday, Feb. 1, another matchup that historically favors the foe. However, after getting the better of Knox earlier this year in Alexander Gymnasium, if this squad can limit its turnovers and continue their shooting percentage advantage relative to their opponent, there is no reason why the Vikings don’t sweep. Board the longboats! May the revenge tour continue.