Written by Sean Dahlin
BUENA VISTA, Va.—In the program's 15th season, the Southern Virginia University women's basketball team closed out the year with a 15-9 record, including its third straight trip to the USCAA National Tournament while also posting an undefeated 7-0 home record for the first time since 2000-01.
"I'm proud of this year's team for overcoming the obstacles throughout the course of the season," said fourteen-year Head Coach Michael Harmon. "To play most of the year with seven players and succeed the way we did is a testament to our character as a whole."
The 2012-13 squad was centered around defense and rebounding, ranking first in program history in blocked shots (75) and opponents' points-per-game average (53.5) while grabbing the second-most rebounds in its fifteen-year history with an average of 46.1 rebounds-per-game.
Team captain Newkirk—who earned USCAA Player of the Week honors on Jan. 29—headlined the Southern Virginia team as the forward was selected to the USCAA All-American Second Team after leading the Knights in scoring (13.6) and steals (3.0) while ranking second on the team in rebounds (10.0), assists (3.3) and blocks-per-game (0.8).
"Amaris was a great example and leader to her teammates," said Harmon. "She did what was necessary in order for our team to succeed, whether that was scoring points or doing the little things."
Junior transfer Ann Kuroki (Hershey, Neb.), also named USCAA Player of the Week on Feb. 12, made her presence known in her first year as a Knight earning USCAA Honorable Mention All-American honors thanks to a team-high 3.9 assists-per-game along with 8.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.5 steals-per-game.
"Ann did a great job in running our offense at the point guard position," said Harmon. "She is an all-around athlete that made key plays in key situations all year."
Fellow senior and two-time USCAA Academic All-American Logan was a key contributor to Southern Virginia's success ranking second on the team in scoring (11.4) and field goal percentage (42.1%) and third in rebounds (6.5) and assists (1.1).
"There were a few games this year that we relied heavily on Abigail's experience and scoring, which willed us to victory," said Harmon.
Freshman center Crystal Cleveland (Delran, N.J.) put together a record-breaking rookie campaign grabbing 11.7 rebounds and blocking 1.9 shots-per-game—both single-season program-bests. She also led Southern Virginia with a team-high 10 doubles-doubles while averaging 10.4 points-per-game.
On Feb. 5, Cleveland was honored with USCAA Player of the Week honors as well.
"Crystal played bigger than a freshman from day one," said Harmon. "She was a dominant presence for us down low and had a great first year."
"We didn't rely on just one or two players in a game," said Harmon. "A team effort from each individual was required to win the games we did."
Southern Virginia started 2012-13 with a pair of victories in as many contests over USCAA-opponents Bennett College (74-27), who it would defeat two more times later in the season, and Penn State-Fayette (80-53) in the Great Ships Classic before dropping four of its next five competitions heading into Christmas Break.
Under the helm of Head Coach Michael Harmon,—the winningest coach in Southern Virginia history with 399 career wins (194 women's basketball, 205 women's volleyball)—the Knights finished the season 12-5 in their last 17 contests, including earning wins in all seven home games on route to their third consecutive bid to the USCAA National Tournament.
Despite a limited roster size for the majority of the year, Southern Virginia won five of the first six games of 2013 highlighted by a season home opening 52-49 advantage over long-time rival Apprentice on Jan. 8, 2013, in which Harmon was honored as the university's first Pioneer Coach prior to tip-off.
Paving their path to the USCAA Division I Women's Basketball National Tournament, the Knights earned key victories in front of a ruckus Knight Arena crowd over Virginia-Lynchburg (48-45) on Jan.22, future CAC-foe Frostburg State (60-48) on Jan. 29, and Washington Adventist (63-60) on Feb. 14 on its way to a perfect home record on the year.
"Our number-one goal was to take care of business at home," said Harmon. "We felt the support of our fans, which helped us go undefeated and win some exciting games in Knight Arena."
The quest for a championship was hampered after the 87-52 first-round tournament loss to the eventual runner-up Lindenwood-Belleville on Feb. 27.
The Knights, however, bounced back the next day to come out on top in the consolation game in dramatic fashion thanks to a game-winning layup from Kuroki for the 46-44 win over No. 7-seed Robert Morris-Springfield in the season finale.
"Because our team had done well in close contests during the regular season, I was confident that we'd pull out the win somehow," said Harmon. "A lot of credit goes to the players for believing they could find a way."
Entering the 2013-14 season, women's basketball will look to register its third straight winning record in preparation for Southern Virginia's first year as a Capital Athletic Conference-member with a full conference schedule.
"Next year in the CAC will be new territory for our program, playing new teams," said Harmon. "We will prepare diligently for the upcoming season and each game in hopes of having a successful showing in the conference."