By Mike Monahan

It all looked good at halftime for the Lake Land women’s basketball team, who led Danville Area Community College 36-20 in the Region 24 Division II championship game at Laker Fieldhouse on Sunday. 

Lake Land was battling for its second trip to the national tournament in three years. 

The Lakers still led by eight points with 4:33 left.

But Danville then outscored Lake Land 16-5 that set off a wild celebration with a 65-62 win. It is the first trip to nationals for DACC.

On the bench sat a sad Lake Land team, one that finished 25-7. 

“I told the kids, ‘You are not defined by one moment,’ Lake Land coach Dave Johnson said. “They were conference (Mid West Athletic Conference) champions They were nationally ranked (in the top 12) all season. That is part of basketball. It is not very fun losing in a championship game. You are not defined by that. You are defined by the whole season. This is a great group of kids and I have had a great experience coaching them for two years and wouldn’t trade them for anything.”

Lake Land had twice defeated Danville this season – 74-66 on Jan. 26 and 71-60 on Feb. 22. 

“I stepped into this program with three wins and six players,” said DACC coach Erika Harris, a DACC assistant from 2012-2014. “I have just been building this culture. A shout out to my assistant coach last year, who helped me get the culture to where it is now. My assistant coaches have echoed my vision and trusted in me. The girls trusted in me. It is not me, it  is them. It is my staff that has trusted in my vision I have had since year one. I always saw this when I became a head coach. I knew what I wanted to do with this program. I knew I wanted to take it back to success like it was when I came here in 2012. Everybody trusted me and saw my vision with me and they put in the work.”

DACC, now 20-9, recorded its first winning season since going 22-8 in 2015-16. 

The Jaguars made 9-of-10 from the field in the final quarter, including two of three shots from beyond the 3-point line to help them to win as the No. 4 seeded team in the regional tourney. 

“Their defense is hard to handle,” said Johnson. “They play aggressively and they trap well. They have good athleticism. You have to be really sharp and you have to see the court well. In the first half, I thought we moved the ball well and got quality shots. In the second half, Danville did a little better job of taking away the ball reversal and we may be dribbled too much in the second half. I gave DACC credit. They really hunkered down. They hit big 3-point shots early in the second half and got right back in it. They hit big shots and make the plays.”

Danville trailed 57-49 with 4:33 left on Neveah Reaves’ third 3-pointer of the second half after the team had missed all seven 3s in the firs half.

Another 3-pointer with 3:43 left made it 57-52.

Reaves tied the game at the three-minute mark. But Lake Land’s Tayler Barry, a former Tri-County player from Newman, sank a 3-pointer with 2:38 left to make it 60-57.

Danville finished the remaining time with an 8-2 run. Alexus Mobley hit Brianna Hamilton for two and Reaves, who finished with a game-high 26 points, gave DACC its first lead since 2-0, with two free throws. Reaves made 2-of-3 from the line for a 63-60 Jaguar lead. 

Olivia Niemerg scored to make it 63-62.

But Candela Neares Garcia, one of four players from outside of the United States on the DACC roster, made one of two free throws as did Rylee Dowers with 10.5 seconds left.

Lake Land was able to take an unsuccessful 3-pointer before time expired.

“That is the person we most likely want to have at the end of them in Olivia Niemerg,” said Johnson. “So, sometimes the ball doesn’t fall for you. I can’t fault the effort of our kids. It was a tremendous effort and a tremendous effort by DACC. They just made one more play than we did.”

In the first half, Lake Land’s defense held DACC to just 3-of-17 (.176) from the field in the first 13:28 as they built a 21-12 lead during that time, taking the lead, one they would have for a majority of the game on a three-point play by Lexi Niebrugge. The first quarter ended with a half-courter by Niemerg for a 16-8 advantage. 

Lake Land led 26-16 when they went on an 8-0 run as Niebrugge and Katlelynn Littlejohn made 3-pointers for a 34-16 advantage. 

“We knew we had to come out aggressive on Lake Land,” said Harris. “They are such an amazing team. The way they move the basketball and there IQ!’s; everything that embodies their culture. We didn’t do that well in the first half of playing aggressively which is why they did what they did in the first half. We settled into what we are; our identity is our defense. When my girls are locked in I don’t think there is a team that is a better defender than we are. They embody that.”

At halftime Harris’ s comments were simple: “Everything we did in Saturday’s game is  why we are here today. No reason to come and play any differently or to be scared or not to shoot our shots and play the defense that we know how to play. Calm down, settle down and be you and they did that, man they did that.”

Reaves started the second half with two 3-pointers for DACC to make it a 10 point game and they were right back in the game. The Jaguars canned 6-of-10 3-pointers in the second half. 

“We talked about coming out and winning the third quarter and we knew they would come out aggressive and they hit those two 3-pointers immediately. Those were big shots. When you win a championship you hit big shots along the way and they hit them in the third and fourth quarters. They turned our turnovers (8 in the first half, 5 in the second half) into easy points and we didn’t get any easy points. That was a factor.”

Reaves averaged 11.1 points per game, while Brianna Hamilton had 16 points, which was double her average. 

“We knew we had to limit the 3-pointers,” said Harris. “The biggest thing in the first half today, we didn’t follow the game plan. In our two losses (against Lake Land)  we didn’t follow the game plan against them for 40 minutes. Today, we didn’t either, but we did enough in that 20 minutes to do what we needed to do.”

The Lakers were led by Niemerg and Barry with 16, while Niebrugge had 14. 


Lake Land loses nine sophomores, including Niemerg, Barry and Niebrugge as well as Marissa Russo, Ali Watson, Chloe Custis, Taylor Orris, Kylee Phillips and Kayla Haws. 

“Russo always played as hard as she could, rebounded well and scored well in the post for us and a really strong player,” Johnson said. “Watson is someone that always made big baskets for us. She was so instrumental in why we were able to be so good offensively as a team. She stretched the floor and rebounded. Custis was someone who started for part of the season and came off the bench and had a big game for us at Parkland and vs. Lincoln Land. She always played her role extremely well. Orris is someone who shot 40 percent from 3-point range for her career. She made some big shots in games for us and is just a great person who gave it everything she had in practice every day. Phillips is one of a kind. One of the truly best persons I have been around. Someone who works hard and loves the game of basketball. She always competed every day she came. Haws is someone who joined the team this year and worked extremely hard. I really appreciated what she did for us this year and she added to our class. I will miss this group tremendously.

Danville8121926 –65
Lake Land16201214 –62

DANVILLE AREA COMMUNITY COLLEGE: Aohassen 0 0-0 0, Neares Garcia 2 1-2 7, Kubwalo 0 0-0 0, Mobley 3 0-0 6, Cedar 1 0-0 2, Reaves 8 7-9 26, Sobany 0 0-0 0, Isahac 0 0-0 0, Dowers 2 3-4 8, Hamilton 6 4-4 16, Totals 16 15-19 65

3-point field goals: 6-16 .375 (Raves 3-7, Neares Garcia 2-3, Dowers 1-4, Mobley 0-1, Hamilton 0-1). Turnovers: 11. Rebounds 30 (Mobley 8), Assists 9 (Mobley 5), steals 14 (Mobley 6). Bench points: 50. Field goal shooting 22-54 (.407). 

LAKE LAND COLLEGE: Niemerg 7 1-1 16, Barry 5 2-2 16, Watson 0 1-2 1, Niebrugge 4 3-3 14, Russo 4 0-0 8, Littejohn 2 2-2 7, Hardiek 0 0-0 0, Custom 0 0-0 0, Wade 0 0-0 0, Fearday 0 0-0 0, Totals 22 9-10 62

3-point field goals: 9-32 .281 (Barry 4-9, Niebrugge 3-12, Littlejohn 1-4, Niemerg 1-2, Watson 0-4, Hardiek 0-1). Turnovers 13. Rebounds 37 (Niemberg 11). Assists: 12 (Niebrugge 3), Steals 10 (Barry 3). Bench points: 7. Field goal shooting: 22-51 (.431).