Section: Basketball

Owls honor seniors, fall to Wittenberg to close out season

Owls honor seniors, fall to Wittenberg to close out season

Cooke and her family, left, and Rauschenberger with field hockey seniors I COURTESY OF ISOO O’BRIEN

On Saturday, the Kenyon women’s basketball team celebrated Senior Day by honoring Claudia Cooke ’24 and Lauryn Rauschenberger ’24 in a pre-match ceremony before taking on Hiram College in the final game of the 2023-24 regular season. Ultimately, the game ended in heartbreak for the Owls, who fell 45-44. Then on Tuesday, Kenyon hit the road to face Wittenberg University in the first round of the NCAC tournament.

Both the Owls and the Terriers got out to a slow start in the first quarter, shooting 3-11 and 2-11 from the field, respectively. Entering the second quarter up 8-6, turnovers and stalled offensive possessions hurt the Owls and prevented them from increasing their lead. It took more than three minutes for Kenyon to score its first basket of the second quarter, thanks to a 3-pointer from Alyssa Gest ’26, but from there the Owls and the Terriers began to match each other blow for blow. With the game tied at 18 with less than a minute to play in the half, Skye Shepherd ’27 launched a perfect deep three over her defender to give Kenyon a narrow three-point lead entering halftime.

Coming out of the break, Kenyon’s offense faltered, as the two teams continued to trade the lead. In what continued to be a low-scoring affair, the Terriers and the Owls entered the fourth quarter tied 29-29. Free throws were the name of the game for Kenyon, as the Owls shot 9-12 from the line in the final frame to go alongside a 37.50% shooting percentage from the field in the final 10 minutes. Cooke especially continued to dominate in the paint, heading to the line 10 times and knocking down seven shots from the charity stripe over the course of the game. As the clock ticked closer and closer to zero, both teams continued to go basket for basket, possession for possession. Down two with less than 30 seconds left on the game clock and Cooke out of the game with five fouls, a travel call on Hiram gifted the Owls one final opportunity to tie the game. Kenyon did just that, as Anissa Hardy ’26 put home a clutch layup to make it 43-43. Immediately afterwards on the defensive side of the ball, Hardy grabbed one of her 10 rebounds of the day and drew a foul, sending her to the charity stripe. Hardy missed the first but made the second, giving Kenyon a one-point lead to the cheers of the Kenyon crowd. Tragically, however, the remaining 6.4 seconds were costly, as Hiram hit a highly contested buzzer-beater layup seemingly in slow motion, shattering Kenyon’s hopes. 

Cooke put up a game-high 13 points and grabbed five rebounds in Kenyon’s 45-44 loss, while Gest was second on the scoresheet with nine. Hardy and Melana Pomerants ’27 both added seven points. 

Cooke described how it felt to play at Tomsich Arena for the last time in an email to the Collegian. “I really enjoyed my experience, it was great having such a big crowd and alumni back to cheer for us,” she said. “Playing the last time in Tomsich was very bittersweet but I am so grateful to have had the chance to continue playing basketball through college, along with being a part of such a great group of ladies.”

Ahead of the NCAC Tournament quarterfinal against Wittenberg, Cooke saw plenty of positives from the game against Hiram. “I think the team can learn to continue playing [until] the clock is out; there were a lot of great things on Saturday even though we lost. I believe we fought really hard and need to have that same spirit and mentality for Wittenberg.” Cooke also outlined some aims for the upcoming game. “My personal goal is to really give it everything I have and leave it all out there, since it could be the last game,” she wrote. “I want to have fun while playing and just enjoy the game.”

On Tuesday, the Owls fell to Wittenberg 80-39 in their final match of the season. The Owls started the game out on fire, as Cooke scored the first four points of the evening before Raine Hammel ’25 knocked down a 3-pointer that forced Wittenberg to call its first timeout with fewer than three minutes played. However, the Tigers started hitting their stride, ultimately taking a 14-11 lead with 1:48 left to play in the first quarter and never looking back. Kenyon’s already small squad was stretched, as the Owls were only able to field nine players over the course of the game, compared to Wittenberg’s 17.

Fittingly, in Cooke’s final game as an Owl, she led both teams in scoring with 17 points alongside seven rebounds. Hardy backed Cooke up with 11 points and eight rebounds of her own. Finally, with a little more than five minutes left to play, Cooke knocked down her first and last ever 3-pointer of her collegiate career to the wild cheers of her teammates.

The Owls finished the 2023-24 season with an overall record of 3-22 (1-13 NCAC) and will return to Tomsich Arena in November 2024. Cooke, who finished her Kenyon career with 911 points and 597 rebounds across only three seasons, left her teammates with some wise advice: “I hope that the team continues to push each other to get better, and work hard each and every practice. I also want them to have fun while playing and enjoy their time together, because it really does go by so fast.”

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