Women’s basketball team heads to conference semifinals

Latifa Madesko, Campus Carrier staff writer

Head Coach Thomas Johnson and his team huddle up during the women’s nail-biting quarterfinal win last Saturday. The Vikings make their third semifinal appearance in six seasons this weekend. Photo Courtesy of Matthew McConnell, Berry College

This past Sunday, the Berry Vikings hosted the quarterfinals of the Southern Athletic Association’s (SAA) women’s basketball conference championship and won the quarterfinal game against conference rival Oglethorpe University with a score of 64-63.

Sophomore Sylvia Kahoro scored 22 points, leading the team and keeping the Vikings in the game by draining three-pointers and being a consistent scorer and play maker. 

“Last year in our first playoff game we lost to Oglethorpe after beating them twice in the regular season and I just couldn’t allow that to happen again,” Kahoro said.

Kahoro plans to take the momentum from this weekend and translate it to the team’s semi-final game this Saturday against conference opponent Centre College. Kahoro said she is confident that her team can win if they play with consistency, commitment and execution of the details.

 “We’ve done it before and can do it again,” Kahoro said.

Senior Sydney Blankenship made 12 points, including two free throws in the last seconds of the game that were crucial for the team’s win. 

The 2022-2023 women’s basketball season, regardless of the conference tournament’s final outcome, has proven to be a year of growth and development for the young team.

The Vikings have mostly underclassmen and just three seniors on their 15-player roster this season. Blankenship said that every player plays a role in the team’s success.

“Everyone contributes to a win, whether that be at practice, cheering on the bench or playing a part of the game,” Blankenship said. “We are a family.”

The strong family atmosphere has influenced the growth and confidence of the younger players, like the key freshman player Elly Callihan. 

Callihan has been a clutch player throughout the season, averaging 8.2 points a game and 5.6 rebounds. Standing at exactly 6 feet tall, the freshman has used her height as an advantage this season in order to help produce points for the Vikings. 

Callihan said that maintaining a steady attitude throughout the game helps her handle pressure in big moments.

“Trying to have little to no emotion no matter what happens throughout the game is important,” Callihan said. “It keeps me focused.” 

The team’s depth provides opportunities for all players to step up when it is their time. Each player has positively impacted the outcome of the season and contributed to all of the success from this season, according to Thomas Johnson, who is approaching his six-year mark as head coach of the Vikings.

“We say all the time, you do not have to be a senior to lead you just have to be a leader,” Johnson said.

A winning home record of 8-5 make it clear that the Vikings perform well at home. Blankenship said that hosting the first round of the conference tournament brought excitement and comfort to the Vikings. 

“We knew this game was going to be tough, having just played Oglethorpe on Wednesday,” Blankenship said. “But coming in and playing in front of our home crowd and having their support really helped with our team win.”

The Vikings lost to Oglethorpe just three days before the conference tournament. Going into the quarterfinal matchup, the Johnson said his team needed to be consistent to pull out a game.

“We must be able to defend, we pride ourselves in being one of the best defensive teams in the league,” Johnson said. “We also need to have toughness. Toughness wins this time of year.”

Playing in an even conference, in which any team has the ability to win on any given night, set up the Vikings for a challenging season schedule. The team split wins and losses with many opponents throughout the seasons, with some of their most anticipated games being against Oglethorpe, Centre College and Millsaps College.

The Vikings’ versatility on the court explains their winning record. Sophomore Kenadie Lee has averaged 13 points per game this season for the Vikings and scored a layup in the quarterfinal game to give the team their first lead against Oglethorpe.

The Vikings are consistent in outscoring their opponents and building their team, as well as in preparing themselves for life after college basketball. 

“Our job is to mentor and develop players,” Johnson said. “We want to make sure we prepare them not only for basketball but for life. We want our girls to be good people, good students, and good with their time.”

The Vikings’ SAA semifinal game against Centre College will tip off this Saturday at 3 p.m. on Centre’s campus in Danville, Kentucky.

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