by Russell Heitmann
(1) Saint Xavier (Ill.) vs (4) Friends (Kan.)
A trio of monumental individual achievements for the Saint Xavier (Ill.) Cougars took place in the final second round game of the 2017 NAIA DII Women’s National Basketball Championship. In addition to defeating the Friends University (Kan.) Falcons, 96-66, three Cougars — Brittany Collins, Mikayla Leyden and Kara Krolicki — secured individual milestones of their own. Collins, a junior center scored her 1,000th career points, becoming the 17th Cougar in school history to do so. Leyden, a senior guard, set both single season and career records for total assists at Saint Xavier, while junior guard Kara Krolicki became just the second player in St. Xavier Women’s Basketball history to amass 2,000 career points.
“I’m proud of all those girls. The three of them are great players, and it is good for their individual records,” said Bob Hallberg, head coach of the Cougars. “The fact is, the way they are, the records wouldn’t have meant anything if we didn’t win the ball game. They are very proud of their accomplishments, and they have been great players for us.”
For Krolicki, scoring becomes easy when the school’s all-time assist leader is feeding her the basketball. Leyden handed out 13 assists, a game-high, to go along with 10 rebounds.
“It’s amazing. She (Leyden) doesn’t care if she is scoring the points or not; she’s there to assist the team and do what she can,” Krolicki said. “She’s one of the hardest working players we have by far, and it is just easy going into games knowing that you have somebody like that who sees the court so well.”
Never the braggart, Leyden deflects credit to her teammates, who she says make it easy to rack up assists.
“It feels great to be able to get my teammates the ball and have them score and get them the baskets they need,” Leyden said. “We have a pretty high shooting percentage on our team, so it’s nice getting those assists with them getting the baskets behind me.”
Krolicki, who scored a game-high 29 points, pushed her career scoring record to 2,003. She recognizes the magnitude of her accomplishment; however, she credits the support of Saint Xavier’s fans and her teammates for making the scoring record worth it.
“Being down here and being able to do that and having the fan support and the teammates make it big deal for you,” Krolicki said. “But it’s not about that right now; we’re here to get the wins, and whoever is scoring the points I don’t care, as long as we’re getting the wins while we are down here.”
Both Krolicki and Leyden identify Collins, who scored 15 points on 5-8 shooting, as a major contributor to their success, noting her ability to score in a number of ways, as well as her improvement over the course of her career as a Cougar.
“Brittany is insane in the post,” Krolicki said. “Yesterday (against IU Kokomo) she was 11-12 from the field. She’s just somebody that you pass the ball and she’s going to go up and get it. That’s great to have that confidence in a player too. She’s grown so much as a player and it’s awesome to see someone do so well while we’re winning.”
Leyden shares Krolicki’s sentiments, noting Collins’ well-rounded offensive repertoire.
“She doesn’t just have one move, she can do anything,” Leyden added. “She’s got the step-back, she’s got the spin and she was even playing point guard today. You know when it’s going down there to her, she’s probably going to make it.”
Saint Francis moves on to their second quarterfinal game in three years, and will play the No. 2 seed in the Duer Bracket, College of the Ozarks, on Saturday at 8 p.m. Krolicki knows it will be a challenge to contain Ozarks’ talented backcourt; however, she recognizes the talents of her own team and anticipates a good game.
“Just one game at a time. We watched them today and they have some great guards on their team, but so do we,” Krolicki said. “It’s going to be a good game tomorrow, and we’re just going to take tomorrow morning to break it down a little bit, just go into the game confident and play like we’ve been playing.”