Women’s college basketball: Seven No. 1 seeds made it to Elite Eight, Catawba goes in as underdog

Published 12:01 am Saturday, March 18, 2023

By Mike London

SALISBURY — While the Catawba Indians and their fans waited impatiently for the Elite Eight to get started, senior guard Lyrik Thorne was named to an All-America team.

The World Exposure Report made that announcement on Thursday. The publication listed five women on first, second and third All-America teams and added 25 Honorable Mentions.

Thorne was one of the 25 HMs.

Thorne is only the third player in program history to be recognized as an All-American.

Honorable Mention on an All-America team is certainly an honor, but if  there are 15 Division II players better than Thorne, well, Catawba would like to see them.

Actually, the Indians might get to see some of those 15 who were deemed better than Thorne up close and personal before this historic season ends.

The Elite Eight will include three of the WER’s first team All-America picks, headlined by Tampa University’s 6-foot-3 senior Sydney Kin, the WER’s Player of the Year.

Kin averages 19.7 points and shoots 68.3 percent. She also averages 10.5 rebounds and blocks shots.

Also present in Missouri for the Elite Eight is second-seeded Minnesota Duluth’s 6-foot-2 scoring machine Brooke Olson and defending champion Glenville State’s star guard Breanna Campbell.

Glenville State is only seeded fifth in the Elite Eight, but it has two of the top 15 players nationally, according to WER. Mickayla Perdue made the All-America third team.

Eighth-seeded University of Texas at Tyler is the only Elite Eight team that can accurately be called a Cinderella story.

UT Tyler has seven losses and is the only team in the final eight that wasn’t supposed to make it. The other seven were all No. 1 seeds in their respective regionals and got to play those regionals on their home courts with loud fan support.

The next chapter for Catawba is a 1 p.m. game on Monday. It will be held in the Civic Arena in St. Joseph, Mo. The opponent is Cal State University, Dominguez Hills.

That’s a mouthful. The shorthand version of Cal State University, Dominguez Hills, is a much more reasonable CSUDH.

Catawba is seeded sixth and CSUDH is seeded third, so the Indians are underdogs for the first round.

Where is CSUDH and what do the Toros have?

The school is quite large compared to Catawba, 17,000 or so undergraduates, although CSUDH has the same number of basketball scholarships to give, so school size isn’t all that relevant.

It is only about 15 miles away from Los Angeles. The school is located in Carson, south of L.A.

The CSUDH Toros are an interesting story. They were 13-12 a year ago. This season they jumped all the way to 31-2 and were dominant. They won their regional final by 22 points.

The Toros didn’t have anyone with the sort of monster season stats that lead to All-America honors, but they are deep — they usually play nine or 10 — and they have three women who average in the 13 to 14 points per game range.

Dawnyel Lair, a 5-foot-8 guard who had 99 steals, averages 13.9 points and 8.7 rebounds and was conference player of the year.

Asia Jordan, a 6-foot forward, averages 13.1 points and 7.0 rebounds and was West Regional Most Outstanding Player. She had 19 points and 10 rebounds in the championship game.

Nala Williams, a 5-foot-8 guard, averages 13.2 points.

The Toros are a team built around quickness more than size. Like Catawba, they are defense-first.

Catawba’s cast of characters is a familiar one by now. Thorne, the South Atlantic Conference Player of the Year and Southeast Regional Tournament Most Outstanding Player, is a a quick, savvy guard who is also a streaky shooter. She averages 19.4 points, 4.3 assists and 2.4 steals.

Janiya Downs, the former South Rowan phenom, has been a steady scorer and rebounder. Sara McIntosh gets after it, provides size and points in the paint and can get double-digit rebounds.

Jada Porter, another streaky-shooting guard, and Mercedes Wampler, who rebounds and defends, round out the starters. The Indians have good depth. They can play 10 without much drop-off. Mary Spry, a freshman from Carson, has impressive points and rebounds per minute numbers.

Catawba (28-5) has broken the school record for wins. Like most of the teams gathering for the Elite Eight, Catawba was favored to win its region and is having an extraordinary season, but is not a perennial power. There are quite a few Elite Eight rookies in Missouri.

There also are a few programs in the Elite Eight that frequently make a splash. Top-seeded and undefeated Ashland University (Ohio) won national championships in 2013 and 2017 and also owns two recent runner-up finishes.

The first round includes dynamic games. Fourth-seeded Tampa (33-1) is one bucket away from being undefeated and takes on Glenville State’s defending champs in the nightcap of the first round. Glenville State is a power program in West Virginia that lost all five starters and still made it back to the Elite Eight.

WSAT will be on hand to broadcast Catawba’s game (or games) in Missouri, with Ken Anderson handling play-by-play duties.

Only the quarterfinals and Wednesday’s semifinals will be played in Missouri. The Division II national championship game will be played in American Airlines Arena in Dallas on April 1, in conjunction with the Division I Final Four.

Catawba is staging an Elite Eight Watch Party on Monday in Goodman Gym. A tailgate lunch will be served beginning at 11:30 a.m. to all Catawba fans in attendance. Live video of the game will be streamed on big screens beginning at tip-off.


Monday’s Elite Eight games

1 p.m. — (6) Catawba vs. (3) Cal State, Dominguez Hills

3:30 p.m. — (7) Assumption vs. (2) Minnesota Duluth

7:30 p.m. — (1) Ashland vs. (8) UT Tyler

9:30 p.m. — (5) Glenville State vs. (4) Tampa