The Westminster College’s Women’s Basketball team’s journey to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II tournament started out with a grueling and unexpected 24-hour travel period to Amarillo, Texas. The team prepared for their flight from snowy Utah to high winds in Texas, but a canceled flight once they arrived was not on the agenda. With no flight to Amarillo, the day was spent waiting in the Houston airport for further information on travel arrangements. Finally, at 10:30 p.m. that evening, they boarded a bus to their final destination arriving at 11 a.m.
The Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) began in December with 16 teams competing, including Westminster’s Women’s Basketball team. The Griffins began the conference with a 13-win streak and proceeded to take second place overall, according to Shelley Jarrard, head coach.
The team made history on March 15 as they played in their first NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball tournament game in Canyon, Texas versus Angelo State University.
The season came to an end when the team lost, but making the NCAA tournament their first year eligible for postseason play was a great accomplishment, said senior Denise Gonzalez, in an email.
During the three year transition to NCAA Division II, Westminster teams were ineligible to compete in postseason tournaments.
Gonzalez, a guard on the team, said she is proud of her teammates and what they accomplished this season.
“We hoped that we could play on further in the tournament, but it really showed what we were capable of as a team,” Gonzalez said. “This shows the underclassmen, as well, what it really takes and how hard they have to work to be successful in the near future.”
Sicilee Williams, another senior on the team, said in an email that going into this season she knew the team would be better than it ever had been and said she was excited to see just how far they could make it.
“I came here as a freshman when we weren’t very good and lost a lot of games,” said Williams, a guard on the team. “I’m most proud of being a part of this program and seeing it transition from being in the bottom half of the league to now — top two in the league.”
Hillary Weixler, a senior and forward on the team, said in an email that competing at this level is new for Westminster, but that the team rose to the challenge of being official members of NCAA Division II.
“The seniors were so excited to be able to participate in postseason this year,” Hillary Weixler said. “We have been doing well against these teams for a while, so it felt great to finally prove that we can compete. We finished strong last year and knew this year would be one for the books.”
Sara Weixler, a senior and forward on the team, agreed with her twin sister Hillary and said going into this season was exciting.
“The most memorable moments were making it to the tournament for the first time with a few teammates that I’ve grown up with over my college years,” said Sara Weixler, in an email. “We upset some teams and surprised a lot of people and that was really rewarding.”
Head Coach Shelley Jarrard was recently named South Central Region Coach of the Year by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) and said she is proud of the great group of seniors on the team this year.
“I’m really proud of Denise who is a first-generation college kid,” Jarrard said. “She is from California and took a chance on coming from Southgate to […] Salt Lake and just really blossomed. Sicilee Williams is another senior who is a small town Idaho kid raised LDS, Denise and Sicilee are now best friends for life. We had the Weixler twins […] they were [role model] players for four years and […] they were just awesome.”
Gonzalez said they grew stronger and closer as a team by overcoming challenges throughout the season.
“We accomplished so much and I know our team is capable of so much more,” Gonzalez said. “They definitely made me a better person.”
*Sicilee Williams was a reporter on The Forum’s 2018-2019 staff.