Falcons pumped up by No. 1 upset victory

Of all the fans at Royal Brougham Pavilion who witnessed Thursday night’s 54-42 upset win over No. 1 University of Alaska, Anchorage, none were louder and more enthusiastic than head coach Julie van Beek.

Celebrating with tiny hops of joy and giant smiles across her face after every exhilarating Falcon play, van Beek, acting more like a fan than a coach, just can’t help but show her excitement when her players succeed.

"Coach van Beek is truly one of a kind," junior guard Daesha Henderson said. "She genuinely cares about each of us and just wants us to succeed. It’s rare in college to find a coach who cares like she does."

"She constantly challenges us to get better, and it is exciting when we are able to rise to the occasion," senior forward Kelsey Burns said. "Seeing her get pumped definitely pumps us up."

Yet, getting pumped up for Thursday’s Great Northwest Athletic Conference rivalry game wasn’t too difficult for the Falcons (18-4, 11-2 GNAC). From the first minute of the game, as van Beek and the Falcon bench started chanting, "Defense," SPU quickly jumped out to a 19-4 advantage.

The large lead didn’t last, however, as the Seawolves ended the half on a 19-8 run to make the score 27-23 at halftime.

Led by senior center Kelsey Hill, the Falcons increased their physical play and went up by as many as 13 points in the second half before securing the win.

After letting a 16-point lead slip away in their earlier loss to the Seawolves on Jan. 24, many Falcon players knew they were capable of pulling off the upset.

"We always knew we had the ability to beat UAA. It was just a matter of will," freshman guard McKayla Gorman said. "Now that we have defeated them, this just reassures the fact that we can go all the way. We might be young, but we believe that we can beat any team out there."

Hill finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds, two blocks, two assists and two steals. She shot 8-of-17 from the floor and 5-of-6 from the free throw line.

"My teammates did a great job at getting me the ball in scoring position," Hill said. "I knew my teammates needed me to have a big game, so I really focused on crashing the boards hard and playing strong and aggressive."

Seawolves senior center Rebecca Kielpinski led her team with nine points and 11 rebounds. No UAA player scored in double digits.

The Falcons, the second best defensive team in the GNAC, have kept their opponents under 60 points the last six games. Anchorage came in averaging 69 points per night.

Thursday’s big win helped carry the Falcons to their second victory of the week, as they defeated the University of Alaska, Fairbanks Nanooks on Saturday in a 97-47 blowout.

Burns, who was back for her third game after coming off a leg injury, led all scorers with 29 points and also had six rebounds and five assists. Her nine three-pointers tied an all-time SPU single-game record. Co-record holder Jennifer Riggan accomplished the same feat against Eastern Montana on Feb. 28, 1992.

"I was really able to find my rhythm, and my teammates did a great job finding me open on the wing," Burns said.

Hill finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and a block. She was later named as the GNAC co-Player of the Week, sharing the award with Northwest Nazarene’s Kristin Hein.

As the Falcons’ last regular season home game, it was also senior night and could be the last time the SPU seniors play at Royal Brougham.

"It’s sad to think that my career here is coming to an end," Hill said. "The past four years have gone by so fast."

Yet, if things go well the next few games, perhaps the Falcons won’t have to say goodbye so soon.

The Seawolves (24-3, 11-2 GNAC), who had their 22-game winning streak snapped by the Falcons on Thursday, also got pummeled by Northwest Nazarene University 71-48 on Saturday. After defeating the Nanooks, SPU and UAA are now tied for first place in the GNAC, which gives the Falcons a good chance to host the regional tournament in March.

The No. 10 Falcons end their season with three straight road games. They only have one game this week when they face Western Oregon University at 2 p.m. Saturday.

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Title: Falcons pumped up by No. 1 upset victory | Author: Zach Wilson | Section: Sports | Published Date: 2009-02-25 | Internal ID: 5942