SXU women enjoying life back at No. 1

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

SXU’s Chanel Fanter scores on a layup Saturday against Judson University. Fanter had 22 points and the Cougars rolled, 95-51.  

It never gets old.

For the third season in a row, St. Xavier University’s women’s basketball team has been ranked No. 1 in the NAIA Division II polls after spending a little time this season at No. 2.

The first time it happened was two Decembers ago and it was a novelty. Coach Bob Hallberg and then-sophomore Kara Krolicki made an appearance on CLTV to talk about the accomplishment.

“We don’t get ESPN following us too much so it’s nice to get some hoopla,’’ Hallberg said at the time. We’ve enjoyed the attention. For the rest of your life, you were able to say you were ranked No. 1.’’

A lot has happened in the past two years, including a glorious run to the NAIA National Championship game last season, and  the Cougars fell to Marian (Ind.) 66-52 despite owning a 30-23 halftime lead.

The early polls had Marian No. 1 and SXU No. 2 this season and when Marian was knocked off 71-60 by St. Francis (Illinois) on Nov. 11 in Joliet, the Cougars were glad they were able to move up to the top spot.

Yes, it’s been done before, but it doesn’t get old for the Cougars.

“Being No. 1 is always cool,’’ Hallberg said. “But it’s a challenge. At this level of play, it’s so important to sustain your program. Some schools of this size can get killed by graduation. It may happen next year with us, but we’ve been able to replace some very good players. You don’t want to have a down year.  We have to keep getting good players to keep going.’’

And having a No. 1 ranking is not a bad recruiting tool.

The Cougars entered this week 9-0 overall and 6-0 in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference after beating Judson University, 95-51, in a league game at the Shannon Center on Saturday.

Sophomore Chanel Fanter had a monster game with 22 points (including connecting on all four of her 3-pointers), nine rebounds and four blocked shots. Krolicki, a senior who is the reigning NAIA Player of the Year, added 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Brittany Collins came up with 13 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots.

Judson (7-5, 4-2) was able to score 35 points in the first half but the Eagles were stymied in the second half, scoring just seven third-quarter points and nine points in the final 10 minutes. The Cougars scored 51 second-half points.

“I think when you are ranked No. 1, you have to protect that,” Fanter said. “People come in there and step up their game. Once we get things going on offense, it’s tough to stop us. We have the type of team where if you shut four of us down, we will have one person who can go off and score. We have a well-rounded offense.’’

As for the pressure of being No. 1?

“There’s no pressure on us – but there is also no pressure on the other team,” Hallberg said. “You can make another team’s season if they beat you. When teams come in not expecting to win, they play a lot looser. You have to continue to play hard.’’

The Cougars visit Robert Morris University at 1 p.m. on Saturday and get ready for a trip to Hawaii in the Hoop and Surf Classic on Tuesday and Wednesday, facing Wayland Baptist (Texas) and Carroll College (Montana).

They return home for a huge two-game set at the SXU Holiday Classic, playing Goshen College on Dec. 28 and the second-ranked team in the country, Concordia University of Nebraska on Dec. 29.