Point Park women look to break through at NAIA tournament

| Monday, March 10, 2014, 10:24 p.m.

Point Park's women's basketball team spent a good amount of time packing for a trip to Iowa.

The Pioneers are hoping for an extended stay.

Point Park makes its third consecutive trip to the NAIA Division II national tournament, which opens Wednesday at the Tyson Events Center/Gateway Arena in Sioux City.

The seventh-seeded Pioneers (29-4) meet second-seeded Morningside (27-6) at 8 p.m. on Thursday in the 32-team, single-elimination tournament.

“We were pretty shocked we were seeded as low as we were for having 29 wins,” Point Park coach Tony Grenek said. “Six teams ranked ahead of us all had lost and they didn't drop in the poll. We won six in a row and we dropped a spot. We can't control that, though.”

Point Park has dropped its first-round game the past two seasons. Last year, the Pioneers fell to eventual national champion Indiana Wesleyan. They have a tough first-round matchup this time, too.

“When you're playing against some great teams, you might as well play one of the best right off the bat,” Grenek said.

Point Park's players, especially its five seniors, hope to break through this time.

“The senior class has been there to experience it, and we do not want to go out there and do the same thing we did the past two years,” said guard/forward Katresa Savisky, a Butler graduate. “I don't want to stomach another first-round loss. It means a lot to have that experience. Hopefully, we can use it to our advantage.”

The Pioneers feature a young lineup with freshmen Sam Weir (Riverside) and Carly Forse (Bishop Canevin) joining sophomore Alexa Xenakis (Keystone Oaks), junior Kayla Kiriau and Savisky in the starting lineup.

“The players who have been with me for three years, including the five seniors and (junior) Haley Sauer, they have cut down nets three years in a row,” Grenek said. “We have great experience on what takes place out there and that will only help the younger girls as well.”

Point Park overcame the loss of its top returning scorer and rebounder in New Castle's Ja'Nia McPhatter, who missed the season with a foot injury, to post a school-record 29 wins.

“We battled through a lot this year. We were very young and had a lot of different faces in the lineup,” Grenek said. “The girls were able to pull through and jell at tournament time. It's been very rewarding to see how they overcame a lot of obstacles.”

The Pioneers set a program record with 14 consecutive wins to start the year. They dropped four of their next 13 games, but rebounded to win their next six, including all three at the KIAC tournament.

“I think we finally hit our peak,” said Sauer, a Shaler product. “I think we understand what we need to do to be at our best. Even in practices, we're doing well. Really, we're on top of our game.”

Point Park's players believe experiencing adversity made the team stronger.

“Every team goes through that. I think everybody was pretty shocked, too,” Forse said. “I am not glad that we lost, but losing was a learning point for us, and I think it'll help us when we go to nationals.”

The Pioneers, who need five wins in six days to win a national title, are rallying around their low seed.

“That is the thing that's keeping us going,” Xanakis said. “A lot of people ahead of us have worse records. After winning our conference championship game, we dropped in the rankings even more. It really put a fire under us.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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