Women’s basketball team faced hurdles in journey to playoffs

NIU closes out the 2021-22 season with 14-15 record and a first round exit from the MAC Tournament

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Zohair Khan

Junior forward A’Jah Davis (left) handles the ball whilst being defended by Western Michigan University freshman center Lauren Audino during a game on Feb. 19 at the Convocation Center in DeKalb. NIU defeated the Broncos 73-55 in the first game of a doubleheader with men’s basketball as part of the Cram the Convo event. (Zohair Khan/Northern Star)

By Skyler Kisellus, Sports Reporter

DeKALB — Women’s basketball’s 2021-22 campaign drew to a close on March 9 in the quarterfinals round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament in Cleveland, Ohio, ending a season filled with ups and downs.

NIU finished the year with a 14-15 overall record, compiling an 11-9 record against conference opponents. 

Three Huskies earned All-MAC honors for their performances this season. Junior forward A’Jah Davis was named to the All-MAC First Team. Junior guard Chelby Koker and redshirt senior guard Janae Poisson were named to the All-MAC Honorable Mention team.

Davis also etched her name in the NIU record books, setting records for most rebounds in a season with 349 and most double-doubles in a season with 24. The DeKalb native tied with Utah Valley University junior center Josie Williams for fourth most double-doubles in the nation.

“A’Jah is the dominant post player in the league,” head coach Lisa Carlsen said in an NIU Athletics news release announcing all-conference honors on March 8. “She has continued to work at her craft and that work ethic will continue as she has a great desire to continue to grow and develop as a dominant player, not just in our league but nationally as well.”

The season-opener against Illinois State University proved to be successful for the Huskies, who notched a 77-60 victory over their in-state opponent. NIU proceeded to win two of their next three matchups to put them at 3-1 early in the season.

“It’s not often that you lose your best player and you can continue to play winning basketball. I’ll always be proud of this group for their resiliency.”

— Lisa Carlsen, head women's basketball coach

Huskies sustain losses on the court and in the lineup

A Dec. 3 matchup against Western Illinois University at the Compass Challenge saw the two teams take the game to overtime, where NIU fell 92-83. The loss spelled the beginning of a period of struggles for the Huskies as they lost the next five games.

NIU turned the page on their woes with a hard-fought win over conference rival Ohio University on Jan. 8. The Huskies prevailed 71-68 over the Bobcats and the 2020-21 MAC Player of the Year, senior guard Cierra “Cece” Hooks.

A pair of losses followed the Ohio victory before NIU stringed together a trio of victories from Jan. 22 to Jan. 26. Their 61-55 win over MAC opponent Kent State University on Jan. 26 was bittersweet for NIU after junior guard Chelby Koker sustained a season-ending knee injury in the fourth quarter of the game. The loss of Koker left the Huskies without one of their top scorers moving forward in the season.

Ending the regular season drawing even

The Huskies proceeded to go 3-4 in the next eight games on their schedule, including their rematch with the Kent State Golden Flashes on Feb. 16, which they lost 67-43. NIU later returned to a .500 winning percentage at 13-13 after going on a three-game win streak.

The final regular season loss for the Huskies came on March 2 against the MAC regular season champions, the University of Toledo. The 74-56 loss ended road play for the Huskies as they finished with a 4-10 record in away games.

NIU’s season finale against Central Michigan University on March 5 gave its departing seniors the final win of their college career. The Senior Day celebration honored redshirt senior guard Errin Hodges, graduate guard Nia Ahart, senior forward Mikayla Brandon and redshirt senior guard Paulina Castro. The 69-49 win ended the Huskies’ regular season at 14-14 overall.

The postseason and beyond

Their regular season performance earned them the No. 4 seed in the MAC Tournament. The seeding pitted them against No. 5 Ball State University in game two of the semifinals round on March 9. Despite accumulating an 18-point lead late in the fourth quarter, the Huskies were unable to advance as the Cardinals came back to win 60-54.

“It’s not often that you lose your best player and you can continue to play winning basketball,” Carlsen said in an NIU Athletics news release following their playoff loss to Ball State. “I’ll always be proud of this group for their resiliency.” 

The Huskies will now have the offseason to prepare for another run at the conference title in the 2022-23 season.

Players and coaches gather on NIU’s sideline during a game against the University of Toledo on Jan. 15 at the Convocation Center in DeKalb. The Huskies lost the Mid-American Conference matchup with the Rockets 73-52. (Summer Fitzgerald/Northern Star)
(Summer Fitzgerald)