Ripon Red Hawks playing for more than titles

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RIPON, Wisc. (WBAY) For the first time in a decade, the Ripon women's basketball team is NCAA tournament bound. Saturday the Red Hawks defeated Monmouth 55-48 to punch their ticket to the big dance.

“It’s just a really good feeling,” Senior Maggie Oimoen said. “We had a lot of alumni from the past three years come here. They were in tears and were all really excited. It was just beating the semifinal—that was really big. I think we were more excited about getting the semifinal than were about the championship because we kept saying we had a curse."

Curse or not, the Red Hawks haven't had much luck in the Midwest Conference Tournament, losing in 2015, 2016, and 2017 before taking home the crown on Saturday and getting that highly coveted tournament berth for the first time in ten years.

“It’s an awesome opportunity to be able to practice another week in Divison III, to be with our team,” Head Coach Lauren Busalachhi said. “You know, it's nice to be the team that's still playing.”

This season, the Red Hawks are playing for Athletic Director Julie Johnson, who's ongoing battle with cancer has here on medical leave, and freshman teammate Kassidy Walters who was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the start of the year.

“They’ve been pretty focused in that way, understanding that what they're doing is bigger than just themselves for Kass, for our athletic director, Julie Johnson,” Coach Busalacchi said.

“Your guys support truly means a lot because like facetiming you guys for practice are the best two hours of my day,” Kassidy Walters said. “I look forward to it, and I set aside those times to just talk to you guys and help me not think about the reality of my situation.”

“Being able to face time her every day for practice and then for games, it definitely means a lot just shows how committed she is to our team,” senior Laurissa Johnson said. “So, practicing and everything,we are lucky to be able to do it, so in a way we are practicing and playing for her.”

If it wasn't clear already that the Red Hawks thrive in the face of adversity, the team claimed another honor Tuesday, with Head Coach Lauren Busalachhi being named Midwest Conference Coach of the Year.

“It’s more a reflection of just more our players and our coaching staff and our support personnel,” Coach Busalacchi said. “If we didn’t have the team of the year, we wouldn’t have got the award we got today (Tuesday).”