Crusaders Pin Title Hopes on Four Seniors

Seniors

Hallie Sheley describes the 2012-13 women’s basketball season as “a year of pictures.”

SMorrisons1024heley and Maranatha teammates and fellow four-year starters Torey DeLozier, Kristin Morrison, and Autumn Peotter have tried to ensure that the memories of their final season will be preserved in digital images. This “Fab Four” has contributed 4,851 points, 2,388 rebounds, 1,030 assists, and 117 games worth of quality basketball over four years.

There’s one picture that has yet to be taken, however—the one of the seniors holding a national championship trophy.

Maranatha hopes to add that one soon, taking a 21-6 overall record and a No. 1 seed into the NCCAA Division II National Championships March 7-9 at Ohio Christian College.

“There’s more excitement this year,” Sheley said. “There’s a little more pressure too. I mean, this is it for us.”

Morrison and Peotter have started all 117 games in their careers. DeLozier missed a start this season while accepting an award for being named national volleyball player of the year. The only two games Sheley did not start came this season, when her Army National Guard husband was about to be deployed to Afghanistan.

A Tough Way to Start

PeotterAutumn1024All four were thrown into action as freshmen during the 2009-10 season. The results were predictable—11.6 assists vs. 25.6 turnovers per game and a 13-16 record that included a nine-game losing streak.

“That wasn’t a surprise to me,” head coach Clayton Morrison said. “They were all coming from small Christian schools, going against very challenging college competition.”

“I hoped it would get better,” Peotter said. “You knew it couldn’t get much worse.”

It did get better. The assists have increased each year (11.6 to 12.4 to 14.5 to 14.7), and the turnovers have decreased (25.6 to 21.7 to 20.4 to 19.1).

The Missing Link

The Crusaders were still missing a piece, however, until junior center Laci Peterson arrived last season. Peterson led NCAA Division III in blocked shots and was recently named the Northern Athletics Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

DeLozierTorey1024“Laci is the inside stopper on defense, and she also forces the other team to put their best defender on her,” Clayton Morrison said. “She allowed Torey to move to more of a power forward role, one where she wasn’t outsized every game.”

“As soon as we saw Laci, we all said, ‘Hey, here is our missing link,’ ” Sheley said.

Clayton Morrison said the Crusaders’ current freshmen and sophomores have a chance to be nearly as successful before wrapping up their careers.

“One of the best things about this season has been our bench play,” Kristin Morrison said. “This is the best bench we’ve had in four years. If we come out of the game, there’s not going to be a letdown.”

Everybody Does Their Thing

SheleyHallie1024The four seniors surrounding Peterson all serve unique roles.

Peotter is the sparkplug, the relentless “hair-on-fire” guard with the smooth shooting touch.

“Most people can’t play at Autumn’s pace,” Clayton Morrison said.

Kristin Morrison is the typical coach’s kid, the smartest player on the floor and an outstanding defender. Sheley is a combination of Morrison and Peotter, an intelligent and energetic guard who can shoot. DeLozier is the consummate athlete—the All-America volleyball player who can run faster and jump higher than anyone who guards her.

DeLozier and Sheley are Math Education majors. Morrison is majoring in Physical Education and Health, Peotter in Elementary Education. All four plan to coach at some level after they graduate.

The Bottom Line

Maranatha may be three wins away from a championship, but the Crusaders have not won the title since 1999. Five-time champion Kentucky Christian defeated Maranatha in the title game in 2012 and 2011 and in the semifinals in 2010.

“I’d be the happiest guy in the gym if they won,” Morrison said, “but not winning wouldn’t diminish what they have accomplished. You can’t look at 120 games and base their success or failure on one tournament. I hope we’re not in that mindset.

“At the same time, I know they really want to finish the job.”