Friday, March 12, 2010

Mihalic leads Findlay to first-ever NCAA Tournament

Amherst’s Audra Mihalic has made her mark for the women’s basketball program at the University of Findlay.

This season, she helped the Oilers advance to the 64-team NCAA Division II National Tournament for the first time in Findlay school history. Findlay, who notched the fifth seed in the Midwest Region, will play fourth-seeded University of Wisconsin-Parkside, today in Michigan.

The Oilers, who advanced to the semifinals of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) Tournament, another first, before falling 71-64 to Northern Michigan University, enter the national tournament with a 21-8 record.

"It’s really a great feeling,” Mihalic said. “Seeing from where we came when I came in as a freshman with four other seniors on the team. It’s a great accomplishment to make it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time. It’s a really good feeling.

"Making the NCAA Tournament was one of our goals, also winning the South and making it to the GLIAC Tournament was our goals so doing it my senior year is just awesome. Coming into the program, we had to work so hard everyday. Being a part of building this program has been an awesome feeling. My highlight is winning the South Division and making it into the NCAA Tournament. We’ve never been here before."

Mihalic, who was named First Team All-GLIAC for the second-straight season, averages 14.7 points, 4.8 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game this season. She has also amassed 134 assists, tying her own school record for assists in a season, which she set last year.

For her career, Mihalic ranks third all-time in Findlay school history with 1,375 points and is second all-time in assists with 414.

"I have definitely improved on my shot, something that I’ve worked on a lot in the offseason," Mihalic said. "I have gotten better on my short jumpers and 3s, compared to what I was in high school.

"We have taken pride in our defense. We have really taken ownership in our defense, cutting down on our turnovers. That’s helped us out a lot."

And although the Oilers were eliminated from the GLIAC Tournament last Friday, they anxiously awaited news on their NCAA Division II tournament bid through the Selection Show.

"We were disappointed that we had lost, but we made it to the semifinals after never making it to the GLIAC Tournament before so that was a really big accomplishment for us," Mihalic said. "We were all together at one of our coach’s house to watch the Selection Show and when we saw our names, we got real excited. It was definitely a great feeling."

The road wasn’t easy for Mihalic and the Oilers. Her freshman season, they only won six games as they looked to rebuild a program around Mihalic and fellow freshmen Candace Black, Maggie Gompers, Jessica Vorst and Megan Sellers, who is from Norwalk High School. Now that they’re seniors, the hard work has paid off.

"We went 6-21 my freshman year," Mihalic said. "My sophomore season, we won nine games. My junior year, we went 14-13 so that was a really good step in the right direction, but we ended up not making it into the GLIAC Tournament because it came down to two teams and the one that we needed to win, lost. This year was the best year that we’ve had."

And now University of Wisconsin-Parkside, who is 23-8, stands in their way.

"We don’t know a great deal about them, beside that they’re tall and physical, a post-oriented team," Mihalic said. "It should be a good matchup for us. We are very confident.

"We’ve competed with the top teams so we’re hoping that it gives us the confidence that we need to go out and play a good game that we know how to play. As long as we play like we’ve done in the past that made us successful, we’ll be fine. We want to make a run in the tournament and be put on the map. We’re back to being a force in college basketball."

Mihalic, who has a 3.71 GPA, will be graduating with a business management and marketing degree and a minor in biology. She will then go to a one-year nursing program to earn her bachelor’s degree.

"These four years have definitely flown by," said Mihalic, who was named an All-Ohio Honorable Mention and the Southwestern Conference MVP three times while at Amherst. "Overall things have been great. I love every minute of it. It’s been a great journey."

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