If you paid attention to the memes floating around the internet last year, 2016 was horrible for just about everybody — everybody except for the Wheaton women’s basketball team. They started off with a rumble and continued to roll through their season all the way to a division championship, leading to a successful 2016-2017 campaign.
Over spring break, the Thunder travelled to St. Louis for the NCAA Division III Tournament. They started their tournament run on March 3 against Rose-Hulman, winning 57-54. It was a defensive battle, with both teams shooting below 50 percent. Senior guard Katie McDaniels led the Thunder with 15 points. She also contributed seven assists and two steals. Junior guard Kelly Lawson tacked on 12 points and four rebounds. In the first five minutes, Rose-Hulman lead 10-6, before a 9-0 Thunder run was ignited by senior guard Ellie Zeller. Going into the second half, the Thunder held a slim lead of 26-25. Wheaton fought hard in the third and fourth quarters to secure the win. This marked the team’s first NCAA tournament win since 2007.
The ladies’ tournament success was cut short the next day during their second-round match against Washington University (Mo.), losing 83-74. They fought hard, but were constantly trynig to come from behind, leading only once during the game. In her final game for the Thunder, senior guard Chantal Meacham led the Thunder in scoring with 17 points in addition to four assists, with McDaniels adding 14 points, four assists and four steals. Sophomore forward Devin Kyler contributed 15 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals. Wheaton ended the night shooting 46 percent in field goals and a respectable 33 percent behind the arc.
While their season unfortunately came to an end, it was still an impressive record-breaking season. With 836 field goals, the Thunder crushed the previous single-season record for field goals of 756 from the 1995-1996 season. The team also averaged a stellar 77.2 points per game and shot 45.4 percent from the field, both program records. The Thunder’s season record of 24-5 gives them the second largest number of wins in program history. With the help of McDaniels, who has the record for all-time free throws with 586, the team tallied 386 free throws for the season, third in program history.
McDaniels also broke numerous records herself. She is the current single-season leading scorer with 543 points for the 2016-2017 season. She broke Nicole Merchant’s record from the 1995-1996 season, and also placed second for single-season free throws (154), behind her previous record of 161. McDaniels will leave the program third on the all-time scoring list (1,737), with fellow seniors Zeller (1,219) and Meacham (920) placing eighth and 24th, respectively. Meacham will also depart as the program leader in three pointers with 240.
The Thunder are losing a few central players next year, most notably Meacham and McDaniels. However, the team will still retain three of their top five leading scorers. “We lose some key players, but we are still going to be an incredibly talented team,” Kyler explained. “I think our style of play will shift a little, but we still have the bar set high.”