SFU at the GNAC Championships! Men fall in close game, Women looking to possible nationals berth
It was a banner year for SFU’s basketball program.
For the first time since making the jump to the NCAA both the mens and women's basketball teams qualified for the GNAC championships, this year held just across the border in Bellingham. In fact, SFU was one of only two schools to have both its mens and women's teams make it.
“To do that is a great feat” said Breanne Watson, Assistant Athletic Director for SFU “and we are so proud of how both programs represented our university. One possession losses are always tough and both games could have gone either way.”
SFU’s women’s basketball team was making another appearance in the conference championship. This time, they were facing the host Western Washington Vikings. After trailing at half 41-28, SFU managed to come back and take the lead — a 17 point swing throughout most of the third quarter that turned the rest of the game into a possession by possession game.
A three point play by Sophie Swant with 33 seconds left made it 70-67 for Western Washington, but two free throws for the Vikings right after made the lead too much to overcome.
Jessica Jones had 20 points on 7-14 shooting, while senior Sophie Swant had 16 points and five rebounds.
“I thought [Jessica] Jones stood out offensively” said head coach Bruce Langford after the game. “She was aggressive [and] I thought Teddy [Drynan] was more aggressive than usual at times. I thought Sophie, who is very sick, competed well in stretches.”
Despite the loss, their season may not be over. There is still a chance SFU gets an at-large berth like they did back in 2017.
“We are ranked 7th in region” explained Langford. "We could go to nationals. I think we are a young team, and we got better almost every week. We beat the number one team in the nation and took the number five firm to the last possession.
We ended third in a very tough league. The kids should be proud."
For the men it was their first ever appearance in the GNAC championship tournament. They played Northwest Nazarene, a team they had beaten at home earlier in the season when they were a top 25 team in all of Division II.
After leading by five at the end of the first half and by as much as 10 in the second half, Northwest Nazarene outscored them 34-23 to get a one point lead with just over a minute to play.
It came down to the final play for SFU. Down by one, freshman Wilfried Balata ran down the floor needing just two points to win the game. He pulled up instead from three, missing the shot.
“I think this game reflected how our team has played when we play well” said men’s head coach Steve Hanson afterwards. “Julian and Jas doing their thing, Mike controlling the tempo and Wilfried doing a great job rebounding. [. . .] Wil's drop-down pass to Julian for the and-one dunk stood out as a tremendous play for us.”
It’s a disappointing end to their first appearance in the conference tournament. However, Hanson and the program are excited for the future — as they should be.
“We made great strides this year” said Hanson afterwards “but we have to improve our conference record. Easier said than done in the GNAC as everyone is improving. We have a good group returning (our entire starting 5), but recruiting will determine our depth for next year and that is very important.”
“Steve has done a fantastic job bringing in key pieces this season that have had quite an impact” said Watson. “From Julian to Wilfred and Jas. Not to mention Michael Hannon – who provides a massive spark off the bench and forces everyone to bring their defensive intensity.
I’m looking forward to the men’s side building from this first playoff experience – they’ve now been there. Next step is to get a post-season win in March!”
Written by: Nick Bondi