Storm begin NCAA Championship in Windy City on Friday
CHICAGO – The Simpson women's basketball team opens the 2012 NCAA Division III Championship on Friday at the University of Chicago.
The Storm (21-6) face 18th-ranked UW-Eau Claire the Ratner Center. Tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m.
Simpson is making its eighth-consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament and 12th overall. The Strom are 9-11 in their previous 11 appearances and 7-9 under 25th-year head coach Brian Niemuth.
Simpson won the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference's regular season title and qualified for the tournament with an at-large bid after falling to Coe in the IIAC Tournament championship.
The Storm are led by first team all-conference picks Kate Nielsen and Stacey Schutjer. Nielsen leads the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging 14 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Schutjer, a two-time honorable mention All-American and three-time first team all-conference performer, averages 13.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.
A look at the Chicago Regional
The 18th-ranked Blugolds (20-6) qualified for the tournament with an at-large bid after earning a share of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title. They are making their 16th trip to the NCAA Tournament and fifth under 12th-year head coach Tonja Englund. Eau Claire is led by First Team All-WIAC selections Nicole Christianson, Callie Halama and Ellen Plendl. Halama leads the team in scoring with 13.2 points per game and is first in the nation in field goal percentage, shooting 62.6 percent from the field.
The second-ranked Maroons (25-0) won the University Athletic Association championship and are one of four undefeated teams in the NCAA Tournament. Chicago advanced to the quarterfinals a year ago and have won 46 of its last 47 games. Eighth-year head coach and UAA Coach of the Year Aaron Roussel is leading the team to its third NCAA Tournament in as many years. UAA MVP Morgan Herrick and Jostens Trophy finalist Taylor Simpson lead the squad. Simpson leads the team with 12.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.
The Fighting Scots (16-9) and 2012 Midwest Conference Coach of the Year Melissa Bittner earned their first-ever NCAA Tournament bid by winning the conference tournament championship. Monmouth is led by First Team All-MWC performer Haley Jones, who averages a team-high 15.7 points per game.
All-Iowa Conference Honors: Stacey Schutjer and Kate Nielsen earned first team all-conference honors and Cathy Kain was an honorable mention selection. Schutjer took home first team honors for the third time in her career, becoming only the fourth player to do so.
Niemuth Named IIAC Coach of the Year: Brian Niemuth earned his sixth Iowa Conference Coach of the Year award after leading Simpson to its fifth-consecutive IIAC Title and 10th during his tenure. He is now making his 10th NCAA Tournament appearance as the head coach at Simpson.
Regional Ranking: Simpson was ranked No. 3 in the final NCAA Division III West Region rankings, released Feb. 22. George Fox (25-0) was No. 1 and St. Thomas (24-1) was No. 2. No other Iowa Conference school cracked the top 6.
National Rankings: Simpson currently ranks No. 8 in the nation in points per game (76.1), 10th in 3-pointers per game (7.6) and 11th in assists per game (17.0). Simpson is also ranked in the top 30 in blocked shots per game (24th, 5.0) and steals per game (25th, 12.9).
Climbing the Ladder: Senior Stacey Schutjer is currently sixth on Simpson's all-time scoring list with 1,378 career points. She needs 65 to tie Cindy Wood and crack the top-5. She is also one of only four players in Simpson history with at 1,300 points and 700 rebounds (701).
Magic 3 Ball: Despite a strong inside presence with Kate Nielsen and Stacey Schutjer, Simpson has developed a reliance on the 3-point shot in 2011-12. Simpson currently ranks 10th in the nation with 7.6 made 3s per game. This season, the Storm are 12-2 with a scoring margin of +16.5 when they make at least eight 3s; when they make fewer than eight, they are only 9-4 with a scoring margin of +2.3. The team has only lost once - the IIAC Tournament Championship game against Coe - when leading 3-point shooter Jaime Elbert makes at least three 3s.
Familiar Foes: Simpson will see a few familiar opponents in the Chicago Regional. The Storm's last meeting with both UW-Eau Claire and Chicago came in the NCAA Tournament. The Storm upset 19th-ranked Chicago in the first round of the 2010 tournament and beat Eau Claire in the second round of the 2008 tournament.
Shaking Things Up: After a 69-58 loss to Loras on Jan. 18, head coach Brian Niemuth decided to shake up the starting lineup. Inserting Ashley Rogers, Cathy Kain and Kate Nielsen as regular starters produced a nine-game winning streak as Simpson closed out the year winning 9 of its last 10.