When the Webster University women’s basketball team entered the long stretch of St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play this month, they were sitting at 1-1 in conference and 4-7 overall. After winning five out of six games this month — including four straight — they sit at 6-2 in the SLIAC and have a winning record of 9-8.
The win streak began on Jan. 5 as the Gorloks traveled to Eureka College (Ill.) and beat the Red Devils in overtime, 87-83. Last season, Eureka College was 13-3 in SLIAC play and 21-5 overall. Webster junior guard Kaliann Rikard and senior guard Maggie Zehner scored 20 points each for the Gorloks in the win over the Red Devils.
Then, on Jan. 8, the Gorloks fell to MacMurray College (Ill.) at home 71-64. The Gorloks took an early lead in the game, but were tied with the Highlanders at half time.
With 1:37 left in the second half, the Gorloks cut the Highlander’s lead to 2 points. The Gorloks missed three 3-point shots down the stretch and MacMurray went on to win the game. Zehner led all scorers with 21 points in the contest. She also contributed 4 rebounds and 7 assists. Junior guard/forward Courtney Pursley scored 15 points with 7 rebounds.
Prior to the Jan. 8 loss, the women’s basketball team had beaten MacMurray College 24 out of the last 25 meetings and hadn’t lost to them at home since 1998. After the game, Zehner was named SLIAC Player of the Week. This is the second time this season she has received the award.
“Maggie’s a senior leader. She has always been a leader for us,” said coach Jordan Olufson. “She’s playing really well. She’s very focused, taking great shots and playing superb defense, and really being a catalyst for our team right now.”
The Gorloks went on the road and played Spalding University (Ky.) on Jan. 10 and came home with another win, defeating the Golden Eagles 60-48. Zehner again led all scorers with 18 points, 6 rebounds and 5 steals.
“I’ve been doing pretty well lately,” Zehner said. “I don’t want to jinx it, but our numbers are really low and we’ve all had to step up in different ways, and every individual member is doing that, and it’s pretty amazing to watch.”
After the win over the Golden Eagles, the Gorloks traveled to Westminster College (Mo.) and defeated the Blue Jays 69-65. The Blue Jays were unbeaten in SLIAC play coming into the game and were first place in the conference. Zehner again led all scorers with 21 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists. She also took home the SLIAC Player of the Week award for the second week in a row, giving her three Player of the Week awards this season.
“We’re playing good basketball right now,” Olufson said. “We have great seniors. We’re playing highly efficient, smart basketball. We’re taking care of the basketball and playing pretty darn good defense. It’s a good combination when you play highly efficient basketball and you’re playing great defense. It’s a pretty good recipe for success.”
The Gorloks then went on to win their first meeting with Fontbonne University (Mo.) this year by defeating the Griffins at Grant Gymnasium on Thursday, Jan. 17. Down by 2 points at the half, the Gorloks bounced back in the second half, and Zehner’s shot with 1:45 left in regulation put the Gorloks in the lead for good. With 20 points in the game, Zehner moved into seventh place on Webster’s career all-time scoring list with 948 points. She passes Kim Sheets, who had 932 points for the Gorloks from 2002 to 2005.
The Gorloks went back on the road on Saturday, Jan. 19, defeating Principia College (Ill.) 61-48. With the win, the Gorloks have won four in a row and five of six games this month. They also improve to 6-2 in SLIAC play and are 9-8 overall this season. Pursley scored 10 points and added a career-high 15 rebounds in the contest. Zehner had 13 points and led Webster in scoring.
“A team goal we’ve had is to win conference, (in the) regular season,” Zehner said. “It’s something we haven’t done since — I don’t even remember — 2001 or something like that. So, we have a chance to do that, and that’s really exciting … We expect to beat everybody for the remainder of the season and go into the tournament with our two losses, and hope it will be enough to put us in first and host conference.”
The Gorloks will try to avenge their only loss of the month on Wednesday, Jan. 23 when they travel to Jacksonville, Ill., to play MacMurray.
“We’re going to play our basketball,” Olufson said. “It’s something we didn’t do the first time, is play our basketball. So we’re going to play forty minutes of Webster basketball and get after it and defend and pressure and come out focused and energized. And that’s all we’re going to do — nothing different — we just have to play our basketball.”
After the game at MacMurray, Webster will host Eureka at Grant Gymnasium on Saturday, Jan. 26 at 1 p.m.
“We don’t look ahead, we don’t look down the road, we take one game at a time,” Olufson said. “Our main goal right now is the next game, not three games down the road, and we’re focused on practice today and the game tomorrow (Jan. 23).”