After celebrating Senior Day on Saturday against Denison University, the sixth-seed Kenyon women’s basketball team traveled to face third-seed Ohio Wesleyan University (OWU) in the first round of the NCAC Tournament. Kenyon’s season came to a close with a lopsided loss in the NCAC quarterfinals to OWU.
Prior to the Owls’ game against the Big Red, the team celebrated its lone senior, Katie Orefice ’23. For other members of the team, like Mikayla Rudolph ’26, the pregame ceremony was a chance to honor Orefice’s contributions to the program. “Although Katie is our lone senior, she has done such a great job leading this team and has had such a tremendous impact on the KCWB program that she deserves to be celebrated,” Rudolph wrote in an email to the Collegian.
For Orefice, who has racked up 908 points in her three seasons with the team, Saturday was a culmination of her time at Kenyon. With alumni back on the Hill to celebrate 50 years of women’s basketball at Kenyon, Saturday’s festivities reminded Orefice of the community she has found in Gambier. “It’s a really tight-knit community, and everyone stays close, even past Kenyon, which I think shows a lot about our program’s values,” she said.
Orefice particularly values the relationships she has formed while getting the chance to play basketball. “Being on a team, you go through ups and downs throughout your season, but you always have people having your back and just great friends that you’ve created and will hold for the rest of your life,” she said. “Just having that support, and also getting to do something that you love doing.”
Denison opened the scoring on Saturday with a jump shot on the way to a wire-to-wire win at Tomsich Arena. Throughout the opening quarter, the Owls stayed tight with the Big Red. Though Denison grew its lead to four points several times, Kenyon answered back to trail 14-12 at the end of 10 minutes. Unfortunately, the Big Red opened the second quarter with six unanswered points on their way to taking a 34-19 lead into the half. Rudolph scored the third quarter’s first four points to cut into Denison’s lead, but the Big Red took control of the game from then on to lead 48-32 after three quarters and win 77-55.
Rudolph highlighted the importance of growing from Saturday’s game ahead of the Owls’ first-round matchup: “We did a much better job breaking Denison’s press and will continue that when we play against OWU on Tuesday.”
On Tuesday, Kenyon and OWU squared off for the third time this season. The Battling Bishops earned a 76-44 road victory on Jan. 4 and won 94-66 on their home court on Feb. 9. Prior to the game, Orefice noted that the teams’ familiarity would be a key factor in the matchup. “We’re definitely a lot more familiar with how they like to play, personnel-wise, knowing what people’s tendencies are and the team as a whole’s tendencies,” she said. Orefice highlighted responsible play on both ends of the court and an aggressive offense as paramount to finding success.
Despite entering the game as underdogs, the Owls got off to a strong start. Grace Murphy ’26 opened the scoring with a pair of free throws, before Bela Krslovic ’24 hit a 3-pointer to grow Kenyon’s lead to 5-0. The Battling Bishops answered back, taking an 8-7 lead nearly halfway through the quarter. The two teams traded points for the rest of the frame. OWU looked poised to take an 18-17 lead into the second quarter, before Orefice hit a jumper to give Kenyon the advantage.
Unfortunately for the Owls, the Battling Bishops came back with a vengeance in the second quarter and scored 12 unanswered points. Though Kenyon clawed back to trail by just four with three minutes to play in the half, the Owls never recovered. A second big run from the Battling Bishops gave OWU a 45-27 lead heading into halftime. Kenyon struggled again in the third quarter, scoring just seven points and facing a 61-34 deficit heading into the final frame. Though the Owls’ offense picked up in the fourth quarter, the Battling Bishops came away with the 79-51 win and ended Kenyon’s season. Orefice, who led the team with 14 points, finished the season as the conference’s second-leading scorer with 14.5 points per game.
The Owls finished the 2022-23 season with an 8-18 overall record (4-10 NCAC). After surviving an early 2-8 stretch, Kenyon recovered to finish the season in sixth place in the conference. For Orefice, her final season at Kenyon represented constant growth for the young team. “We have a very young team and I think, throughout the season, we’ve honestly gotten better and better,” she said. “We’ve had some ups and downs, but I think everyone has continued to grow throughout the season. There have been games where we’ve done great things, and I think that just reflects on our potential as a team for the future.”