TACOMA, Wash. – The 2008-09 season now seems like light years ago to fans of the Linfield Wildcats women’s basketball program.
It was then that the Wildcats suffered through one of the program’s worst campaigns on record. Linfield won just three of 25 games and finished dead last in the Northwest Conference with a 2-14 record.
Saturday night at Olson Auditorium, three Wildcats scored in double figures to pace Linfield to a 64-51 victory over Pacific Lutheran that punctuated Linfield’s first winning season in five years and its first season sweep of the Lutes in at least 15 years.
Linfield didn’t waste Coach Robin Potera-Haskins’ maiden season, turning in a 13-11 overall record, including an 8-8 mark in conference play. The Wildcats finished in sole possession of fifth place in the NWC standings, one spot away from a conference playoff berth. That marked a substantial improvement from just a season ago, when the ‘Cats tied Pacific for seventh place.
“(A winning season) hasn’t happened by accident,” said a delighted Potera-Haskins in a postgame interview. “Our kids worked super hard to get to this point.”
Gretchen Owens scored 18 points, Micha Pringle had 15 and Kaely Maltman delivered a dozen points to cinch the Wildcats’ long-awaited winning campaign.
Owens scored the first basket 66 seconds into the game and the Wildcats never looked back. Owens totaled 10 points in the opening half while Pringle sank 3-of-6 shots on her way to seven first-half points. Linfield led 29-24 at the intermission, outshooting PLU .414 to .290.
Linfield was even more efficient in the second half, hitting half its shots (9-of-18). The Wildcats led by as many as 17 points before the Lutes staged a late rally.
Owens was also the game’s top rebounder with 12 while Chrissy Baumgartner corralled seven boards to go along with nine points. Wildcats point guard Abby Olbrich, fresh from playing a tennis match for Linfield in Portland earlier in the day, scored seven points, hitting both her field goals tries and all three of her attempts at the free throw line. She also contributed four assists and one steal. Senior Stephanie Fennimore, playing her final game in a Wildcats uniform, finished with three points and a pair of steals.
Falling one win shy of potentially qualifying for the NWC playoffs, the Wildcats were left to wonder what might have been had they scratched out at least one more league victory.
“There were many games this season where we felt as though we had the ability to win against some of the conference’s top programs: Lewis & Clark, George Fox, Puget Sound," said Potera-Haskins, not yet satisfied with simply achieving a winning season. "Our program needs to take the next step toward winning those kinds of games with the ultimate goal of bringing home the conference championship to Linfield.”
PLU, five years removed as kingpin of the NWC, ended its season at 6-18 and 4-12 in conference play. Three Lutes, Jordan Westering, Samantha Potter and Sara Backstrom, shared team scoring honors with 11 points each.
Owens capped one of the highest-scoring seasons by a Linfield Wildcat in program annals. She averaged NWC-leading 19.9 points per game, fourth-most in Linfield's 36-year history.
The future appears bright for Potera-Haskins and Linfield, with every player but Fennimore expected to return in the fall.