ST. GEORGE – As the midway point of February approaches, so does the end of most college basketball regular seasons.
The Dixie State College men’s and women’s basketball teams have just five Pacific West Conference games remaining before making a trip to Azusa, Calif., for the inaugural PacWest conference tournament.
The Lady Red Storm (11-10, 9-4) have endured a season of ups and downs. It’s hard to believe that just a little over a month ago Dixie State was a perfect 5-0 in PacWest play and riding a tsunami-sized wave of momentum. However, that wave came crashing down with the dismissal of head coach Angela Kristensen in mid-January.
Despite accumulating a solid 115-61 record in just over six years of work, Kristensen was relieved of her duties as head coach due to repeated violations of department policy. Derek Dawes, Director of Annual Giving and Community Engagement, was named interim head coach and the Red Storm own a 4-4 record since that undefeated start.
“It was a challenge,” Dawes said. “It was a tough couple days for the team when it went down, but it’s been a lot of fun for me. I’ve appreciated being back on a team again. It’s been a good experience and it’s going well right now.”
The Red Storm are staying competitive in the PacWest and boast the league’s fourth-leading scorer and the top rebounder.
Junior guard Johnna Brown is making the most of her return from the softball diamond and is averaging a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds per PacWest contest. Erica Hayes is also averaging double-figures with 10 points per game.
And although the regular season is nearing its end, the Red Storm still have plenty to play for and to stay motivated for. The winner of the inaugural conference tournament in March receives an automatic berth to the NCAA Division II national tournament, something that is especially nice for teams which may not receive an at-large bid.
“That’s the thing we’re most excited about,” Dawes said. “We don’t have to wait on anybody else or hope [somebody] loses a game here or wins a game here. It’s all up to us. It’s really good to be in your own driver’s seat. It’s going to be exciting.”
The Red Storm men (16-5, 11-2) are still riding their early season momentum wave and are looking for their fourth consecutive trip to the national tournament. Thanks to a perfect record in January and a nine-game win streak stretching into February, DSC finds itself sitting atop the PacWest standings heading into the home stretch of the regular season.
The Red Storm have suffered only one loss dating back to Dec.19 when they fell to non-conference foe Pittsburg State University at the Las Vegas Challenge. That loss came Monday in a 78-75 road setback to Dominican, the second defeat to the Penguins in as many trips to San Rafael, Calif.
The loss snapped the nine-game win streak and it’s now safe to say that Dominican seems to have Dixie’s number at home.
“You’ve got to give Dominican a lot of credit,” head coach Jon Judkins said. “They came ready to play and they knew our stuff. They played extremely hard and they shot the ball (well).”
But despite dropping the close contest to the Penguins, the Red Storm are still set up to make a run to build on an already historic season. Just a day after falling to Dominican, the Red Storm cracked the Division II Top 25 for the first time since making the jump from the junior college ranks. DSC sits at No. 19 in the National Association of Basketball Coaches rankings, something that should help propel it to another national tournament appearance.
“It’s great that they finally realized we’ve got a good team,” Judkins said. “We’ve gone the last three years to the tournament and I think they realize that we’re a pretty good team. It’s a good sign for us and we can get better. If we come out and finish these next two games we’re going to stay there.”
Led by Zach Robbins (13 points and eight rebounds per game), three other players are also averaging double figures. McKay Massey and Dalton Groskreutz both average 12 points per game and Steven Larson is contributing a steady 10 points per outing.
As a team, the Red Storm lead the PacWest in six statistical categories including scoring margin, field goal percentage, field goal percentage allowed, 3-point field goal percentage allowed, blocked shots and defensive rebounds.
Both Red Storm teams wrap up a four-game tour of The Golden State at Notre Dame de Namur on Saturday.
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