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Kirkwood rolls into national tournament after winning Region XI title
Women’s basketball: Eagles beat Iowa Western, 62-54, to earn third straight berth in NJCAA tournament
Ryan Pleggenkuhle - correspondent
Mar. 12, 2023 6:09 pm
CEDAR RAPIDS — Madness. Milestones. Memories.
Johnson Hall was the host to it all this weekend.
The defending national champions and third-rated Kirkwood Eagles (29-2) are headed to the NJCAA Division II women’s basketball tournament for the third consecutive season following a 62-54 regional final victory over No. 8 Iowa Western (26-5) Sunday at home.
“It’s kind of the expectation here to go to the national tournament,” sophomore forward Jada Devine said. “And all the accolades Coach (Kim Muhl) got this season, it’s really great to see us add a little icing on the cake.”
Devine led the Eagles in scoring Sunday with 15 points.
Speaking of Muhl’s accolades, Saturday’s regional semifinal victory over Northeast Iowa Area Community College gave Muhl career win No. 1,005, making him the winningest active coach in NJCAA women’s basketball.
“So it’s my turn to die,” Muhl said with a chuckle. “I don’t know. I’m not even going to worry about it (the record) until the summer. Right now, I’m just trying to take it one game at a time.
“The kids just played extremely well today. My point guard (Alycia Patterson) was unbelievable.”
Patterson, who replaced Naya Haymon as the team’s point guard recently due to injury, scored 13 points and helped the Eagles survive a furious second-half rally from Iowa Western.
Kirkwood held a 40-21 lead at intermission, but the Reivers owned the third quarter, outscoring the Eagles 21-7.
With the lead cut to five at 47-42, Kirkwood found its “juice” again early in the fourth.
“We weren’t nervous at all,” all-regional tournament MVP Tasia Jordan said. “From the jump, we came out with juice.
“As long as we kept a steady hand, we were in the game. I felt like the moment we kept our energy and found our juice again, we were OK.”
Jordan finished the contest with nine points.
A big part of Kirkwood regaining momentum in the final period was a Devine 3-pointer with 4:44 to go that gave the Eagles a 55-48 lead.
“It felt great,” Devine said. “Whatever I can do to get the team ahead, make us feel more comfortable in the game, I’m going to try to do it.”
Devine, Jordan and Clear Creek Amana alum Karsyn Stratton were named to the NJCAA Region XI all-tournament team.
Stratton finished with seven points and five assists.
“We had that great run in the first half and they kind of came back,” Stratton said. “We knew they were going to make a run, it was just a matter of weathering the storm and doing what we do.”
Sunday’s win not only sent Kirkwood back to the national tournament, it capped another perfect season on its home court, its second straight. The Eagles finished 16-0 in Johnson Hall this year and 19-0 in 2021-2022. Kirkwood hasn’t lost a home game since March 13, 2021.
“When I was in high school, I didn’t know much about Kirkwood, but we have one of the greatest programs in the nation right in our backyard,” Stratton said.
The Eagles hope the fortune they’ve had in Johnson Hall will travel with them to Port Huron, Mich., where the national tournament will be played March 21-25.
“We always talk about the experience (playing in the national tournament),” Muhl said. “You won’t forget it for the rest of your life. I don’t care what level you’re at. The kids will not forget this, and each other.”