Westminster's season opener against Urbana was a special one, especially for the Owls' seniors.
Senior guard Brooke Riley said the Owls had never beaten Urbana since she's been at Westminster. That changed Monday, when the Owls used a second half surge to overcome the visiting Hawks 53-38.
Former North Carroll coach Shawn Minnier got the win in his first game as the Owls' new coach, and the girls are adjusting to the changes at the top.
"I think we were a bit nervous because we obviously have a new coach so there are a lot of new things that have been added," Riley said. "We were a bit timid about some of the plays we were going to be running, some of the defenses we were going to be running to get them exact because we want them to be perfect.
"We're also excited because Urbana's been a really good team in the past and every year we come out and it's a tough game at the start so this year we were excited to beat them for once."
The Hawks jumped out to an early advantage and carried a five-point lead into the second frame with the help of a 3-pointer from Hawks junior guard Lisa Kneebone. They built on a 9-0 run that carried over from the first quarter until Owls sophomore forward Zoe Costley cut the deficit to make it 18-12.
A trio of free throw attempts from the Hawks made it 24-16 with just less than two minutes to go in the first half. Owls senior guard Regan Pfaff's score at the buzzer made it 25-20 heading into halftime.
"We were trying to get our feet wet early in the game and I think once we found our groove they shifted to a zone once we worked through some of the wrinkles," Minnier said. "I think we did a much better job of the intensity level, ramping that up, and the execution and just slowing the game down. We don't want to play to the other team's tempo, we want to dictate the tempo and I think the girls did a good job of that in the second half."
The second half took a turn for the Owls, indeed.
Minnier's squad scored 12 points in the third frame and allowed just five from the Hawks to pull ahead 32-30. Senior forward Rachel Onners sunk a pair of free throws and shortly after, Cottom dived through the Hawks defense for two points with 5:25 to go.
With 3:36 left in the game, Riley tossed a long pass to Cottom down in the Hawks defensive zone to keep Westminster ahead 38-34. The Owls embarked on a 9-0 run for a 45-34 lead with under two to go. Four different Owls garnered free throw opportunities in the final minute — Riley and Onners made both, junior guard Sydney Popielski and sophomore guard Emily Hynson each made one.
Minnier works at Westminster, so he was no stranger to the team prior to his new position.
"I was excited, I know what they have here, I know the talent level that's in the building so I know what they're capable of and they know my expectations," Minnier said. "We're working to set a high bar and we're going to expect the girls to meet, if not exceed, that bar.
"We have higher goals this season than maybe in year's past so every day coming to practice and coming to games we want to look to execute and keep that intensity level up."
Urbana (38): Lisa Kneebone 10, Jane Haas 6, Tara Gibson 5, Simone Walmsley 5, Charlotte Brown 4, Emma McCaskill 1.