HICKORY, N.C. — The Parkland women’s basketball team traveled to Mattoon on Feb. 25 for a Mid-West Athletic Conference game with Lake Land. The Lakers returned the favor on March 25, making a roughly 50-mile trip north to face the Cobras in Champaign.
Each team won on the opponent’s home court. The rubber match is occurring under significantly different circumstances.
“If you would’ve told me this in October — that we’d be playing Lake Land in the Final Four — I wouldn’t believe it,” Parkland coach Allie Lindemann said about 27 hours before her sixth-seeded Cobras (19-3) take on the second-seeded Lakers (23-2) in a 6 p.m. NJCAA Division II national tournament semifinal.
“It’s pretty incredible, and it’s a testament to our region,” Lindemann continued. “But it’s going to be a fun matchup There’s more at stake during this game. ... It’s weird that they are 45 minutes away (in Illinois), but we’re thankful to be able to play on this stage.”
Parkland is seeking its second-ever championship game berth, following its 2015 appearance that ended with a 66-64 loss to Johnson County (Kan.). Lake Land never before has reached the national tournament final.
“It’s honestly a whirlwind right now,” Lindemann said. “We had two back-to-back games (a first-rounder Tuesday and a quarterfinal Wednesday), and now we’re just trying to prepare for the Final Four. We’re just grateful to get to where we’re at, and they’ve done a phenomenal job.”
The Feb. 25 contest between these teams resulted in a 77-67 Cobras victory. Mady Harper (13 points), St. Joseph-Ogden product Bree Trimble (11 points) and Naomi McDaniel (10 points, 12 rebounds) paced Parkland in scoring, though the Cobras committed 27 turnovers to the Lakers’ 16.
Lake Land achieved revenge via a 70-56 victory on March 25. Karrington Krable came off the bench to produce a game-high 15 points for the Lakers, while season-leading scorer Kamaria Gant added 14 points.
Parkland again was hampered by turnovers, committing 25 in the loss.
“We have to utilize our size, because we have that advantage,” Lindemann said. “We have to be able to limit the paint touches we allow them to have and clean up rebounds.”
Lake Land amassed 36 points in the paint during its March win, as well as 34 points off Cobra turnovers.
Gant and fellow guard Abby Weis average 14.6 and 12.2 points per game, respectively, entering Friday’s showdown. Gant was the Lakers’ leading producer in Wednesday’s 67-55 quarterfinal victory versus 10th-seeded USC Salkehatchie (S.C.), though her 13 points was closely followed by Tri-County product Harley Barry’s 12.
“Essentially everyone on their team can shoot it,” Lindemann said. “That’s what they do a really good job with.”
Offense was hard for Parkland to come by during its own quarterfinal success, a 50-40 outcome against 14th-seeded Union County (N.J.).
Harper was the only Cobra to reach double figures with 12 points, though eight of the nine players Lindemann deployed during the game bucketed at least two points. That includes Trimble (seven points), fellow SJ-O graduate Peyton Crowe (eight points), Tri-County product Kiersten Price-Wilson (four points) and Prairie Central alumna Elly Haberkorn (three points).
“Everybody’s feeling good,” Lindemann said. “Just trying to continue to use (Thursday) to get our legs back and rest and kind of mentally take a break.”
That respite included exploration of Hickory, a city of about 40,000 residents situated along Rhodhiss Lake about 60 miles outside Charlotte.
“It’s a beautiful area,” Lindemann said. “Fortunately, our fan base has been phenomenal. They made the trip. I have almost every girl’s family here. I’m just giving them time to be with their families a little bit.”
That preceded a team dinner and a watch party for one of Thursday’s two quarterfinal games, between Kirkwood (Iowa) and Illinois Central. The latter program is another with which the Cobras are familiar, having lost two of three games to the Cougars prior to the national tournament.
But Lindemann isn’t having her athletes watch Illinois College as any sort of motivational tool.
“For the girls, I want them to come and enjoy the moment and be part of this atmosphere,” Lindemann said, “because it truly is a phenomenal accomplishment.”
Lindemann knows what it’s like to view the national tournament as a spectator. She did so back in 2015, when father Mike directed Parkland within a few points of a championship victory.
The elder Lindemann isn’t able to be in attendance at this year’s tournament, and Allie Lindemann said that family tie to Cobras of the past isn’t affecting this season’s group.
“It’s fun to be able to lead this team,” Lindemann said. “The girls make it easy, and the coaching staff makes it easy for me. I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and take everything in.”