This archived article was written by: Scott Froehlich
February has been a roller-coaster ride for the Eagles. After finishing January with a 2-7 conference record, and a six-game losing streak, USUE looked for greener pastures as the calendar turned.
With their first game against the fifth-ranked Salt Lake Community College Bruins, the team knew that they’d have to play their best to come out on top. USUE looked to build off their previous game, in which they nearly mounted a second-half comeback.
In the first quarter, the Eagles struggled to keep up and the Bruins carried the play for all 10 minutes. USUE finally found their game and kept the game competitive throughout the next two periods. Heading into the fourth, the Bruins led 35-30 and the Eagles were looking to fight back. Unfortunately, the Bruins outplayed them and dominated the quarter. Once SLCC extended their lead to double-digits, they never looked back, outscoring USUE 14-6 in the final frame and won the game 49-36.
Next up was Colorado Northwestern Community College, and from the game’s first tip, USUE dominated the Spartans. The Eagles had shaken off the loss against SLCC and played with a chip on their shoulder all night long. At the half, the Spartans trailed 21-36 and never got back in the game. USUE’s performance in the second half would be dependent upon not only how well they played, but also how they performed mentally.
“The team had complete confidence that we were going to win,” said Eagles center Sara Morely. She added, “Our coaches told us that we deserved the win…there was no way that we were going to let them take that away from us.”
This determination paid off in the final two quarters as the Eagles maintained their double-digit lead and cruised to a 76-60 victory.
The team was spearheaded by solid defense and a season-high 22 points by guard Kaitlin Toluono, who was later named Student Athlete of the Week.
“The whole team was working really well together. I was confident that everyone would do their job and they were confident that I would do mine. It just seemed to click. It feels good [being named Student Athlete of the Week]. It is a good boost for confidence and knowing that people notice I am working hard.”
“Kaitlin has really blossomed the last month and she has worked to improve her game and attitude which has contributed to her level of play,” said Assistant Coach Morgan Warburton.
USUE returned to the BDAC to start a four-game home stand, starting against the Snow College Badgers on “Fan Appreciation Night.” In their previous matchup, Snow beat the Eagles 66-65 after a controversial call by the refs led to a buzzer-beating shot.
During the first half, the Eagles struggled offensively and only made five of an attempted 25 shots. The Badgers countered by playing well in that timespan. Not only did they outshoot USUE, but outrebounded them 30-15 in the first two quarters.
USUE’s struggles continued in the second half, and the team let the game slip away. Despite playing well in the third, their lack of scoring in the fourth quarter led to their demise. The Badgers won the game 77-48.
“The biggest difference was their approach. How you start the game will most likely be how you end it,” Morgan said.
“I think that it was a combination of things. Nerves, the crowd…just feeling the pressure,” Morely said.
“We stopped playing together as a team,” Bryndie Ballam said.
After the loss, the Eagles again found themselves needing to bounce back from a devastating loss. The opportunity would come in the next game against the CSI Golden Eagles.
Before the game, Ballam foreshadowed how the team would need to perform to get a win.
“Forget about the game [against Snow] and just move on from there. I definitely think we can play together as a team and go out and rebound,” Ballam said.
Unfortunately, the start to the game against CSI didn’t go as well as the team would have liked. The Eagles stumbled out of the gate and fell behind early. CSI led 21-11 after the first quarter, then went into the half up 40-26.
But instead of burying their heads in the sand, USUE turned the game around in what would become a nail-biter.
The Eagles started the third quarter on a 9-1 run, cutting into CSI’s lead and jump started the team’s momentum. From there, a strong defense and offense got the team back in the game. Three-point shooting played heavily into USUE’s second half performance, with the team making five shots from behind the arch in the third quarter alone.
“The turning point in the game was during the beginning of the third quarter when we started to share the ball and we made  …threes in a row,” Ballam said.
For guard Madison Loftus, who made a team-high five threes in the game, shooting from behind the arch was just another day at the office.
“Obviously, you’re going to be on more nights than other nights, but I always tell myself that the next shot is going in and it’s always great when you are in the zone,” Loftus said.
After the Eagles’ offense came back to life the team entered the fourth quarter tied 54-54. In the final quarter, the intensity level was high as both teams scratched and clawed for each point. Good defense by both teams kept scoring low in the first five minutes, as neither team wanted to give up a run. After both teams exchanged shots, the clock wound down to 1:30 with the Eagles leading 66-64.
Moments later, CSI scored down low to tie the game at 66 with under a minute remaining.
With the last seconds of regulation ticking away, the game was on the line; more specifically, the free-throw line.
In the final 44 seconds, CSI sent the Eagles to the free throw line on five occasions. Out of the possible 10 points, USUE made nine and won the game 75-68. Toluono, with some of the biggest chances, made four free throws, including two-clutch shots before the game ended.
“I was a bit nervous because I knew that they were big for our momentum, but I just tried to be confident. I just told myself to take a deep breath and relax,” Toluono said.
On Tuesday Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, the Eagles got a chance to renew acquaintances with SLCC. In a highly contested match, USUE upended the No. 4 nationally-ranked Bruins, and squeaked out a 59-57 victory. Madison Loftus led the team in scoring with 20 points, 18 of which came from the three-point line. The win for the Eagles was not only their first against SLCC this season, but it was also the first loss for the Bruins, who had won their previous 12.
The regular season winds down over the next couple weeks as the Eagles have three games remaining. USUE plays their final home game Feb. 16, against CNCC at the BDAC. From there the Eagles head to Snow College on Feb. 23, followed by a rematch with CSI Feb. 25th.