By Max Goodwin
At halftime of Saturday’s KCAC semifinal against Oklahoma Wesleyan, Avila was shooting “horrible from the field and from three,” in the words of Head Coach Torie Murillo. By the end of the 65-51 win, Avila shot 36.5 percent from the field and just 21.1 percent from three.
Murillo challenged the team to go after their shots for offensive rebounds to create more possessions.
“The biggest thing was offensive rebounds, we told them they had to get 10 in the second half and they did a great job crashing the boards and getting second chance shots,” Murillo said.
They managed to grab nine offensive rebounds in the second half, one short of the goal set by their coach, but the energy and effort was clear. Senior Matti Morgan, recently named KCAC Player of The Year, led the way by pulling down 15 rebounds herself and three on the offensive end, finishing with a double-double that included 16 points.
Morgan also came up with four steals. Avila stole the ball a total of 16 times from Oklahoma Wesleyan.
Avila didn’t give into the frustration of not seeing shots fall, but instead turned up the intensity, winning both the rebound and turnover battle creating extra possessions for Avila that carried them to a critical win in terms of NAIA tournament selection.
“We were just excited,” Murillo said after celebrating the semifinal win with her team. “I always tell them that this is the hardest part, just staying true to what we want to do. Sometimes it gets frustrating. We fought through that frustration, so they were just super excited at the end.”
The excitement broke through as the final minute ticked off the clock. Morgan came down the court and caught a pass from senior Tiffany Davenport and took one dribble as her coach, Murillo yelled, “shoot!”
Morgan, the most prolific scorer in program history, had made just one of her six three-point attempts up to that point,. But while there seemed no way that shot would miss, it would be the last shot of Morgan’s career in her home gym, Mabee Fieldhouse. It fell through the net, of course, capping the game and making it clear that Avila was headed for the conference championship game for the second time in three seasons.
“What a thrill…with the energy in this place, I just couldn’t picture it any different,” Morgan said.
Avila now has a difficult test ahead against the top-seeded Sterling College in the KCAC Championship game. Sterling beat Avila in both matchups this season, both at Sterling and at Avila.
Avila was a team rebuilt from transfers coming into this season. Morgan decided to stick around for a fifth season with an extra year of eligibility. Morgan is just one of two players remaining from the Avila team that won the KCAC tournament championship in 2020. After almost a full season of playing together, the Eagles are now coming together as a team.
Senior Tiffany Davenport and sophomore Ainsley Tolson, both transfers, led Avila in points over Oklahoma Wesleyan with 19 points.
“We knew just from the beginning that energy was going to win the game for us,” Tolson said. “We have five or six seniors, a lot of seniors. Everybody is just so bought in right now.”
Avila plans to keep the momentum rolling as they face Sterling in the conference championship game Monday night in Park City, Kansas. The game will be streamed live on Watch ESPN app. If Avila wins, they receive an automatic bid to the NAIA tournament.
“We’re really vibing,” Morgan said. “We’re all on the same page. We know what we’re chasing after and I think we’re sticking together and staying focused extremely well right now.”