Dubuque, IA - "The standard is Arlington (2015 ACCA National Champion), Ladies. Our commitment to this team is solely based on honoring God and laying down our life for our teammates. It is the unconditional sacrificial love that Christ has shown us that we are to show one-another. This season's focus will be 80% culture (Commitment, Preparation, Effort, Attitude, Selflessness) and 20% X's and O's. We have enough talent this year to do something that hasn't been done in 20 years but it is up to us on whether or not we want to pursue it. From an eternal perspective, it's not about wins and losses, it's about the relationships you establish with one another. It's about how you use the gifts God has given you to grow closer to him and further the kingdom, for that is eternal. If the Lord grants us success, then we use our platform to preach Christ and show just how powerful unity in Him is in fulfilling His will. If we all buy into this vision, plant our crops and pray for rain, we will do great things this year." (Coach Graw's paraphrased message in Preseason, August 2015)
The season began with four returning players from last year's team and bringing in seven new. This included First Team All American Madison Laib along with Sharon Tomlinson, Rachel West, Erin Edmondson and Nakiah Kimble who rejoined after redshirting her freshman year. These five would be the ambassadors to carry out Coach Graw's vision as they led in cultivating a healthy and successful culture throughout preseason and September. With Colossians 3:1-17 being the core passage for developing a healthy team culture, the ladies set out to establish a culture that also echoed that of 1 Corinthians as one body with many members, and that of Philippians 2 in giving up of one's glory for the sake of the team, all pointing to the work of Christ on the cross. With the leadership of the five ambassadors, the Lady Eagles began the year with a cohesive team all bought into the vision. That set the stage for an amazing journey, one that will be remembered for many years to come.
The season began with a convincing 76-55 win against UW-Richland, a community college in Richland, Wisconsin. After the game it was clear that these young Lady Eagles had something special. The scoring power between Madison Laib and Rachel West from the perimeter along with the inside presence of freshman sensation Shelby Hembera made it almost impossible to guard. Making it even more powerful was Nakiah Kimble's speed and vision orchestrating the offense from the point guard position and shut-down defender Sharon Tomlinson chasing around the opposing team's best offensive guard. As one body, the many members each have their role and every role is vital to the health and success of the body as a whole.
As first semester came to a close the lady eagles found themselves 5-3 including a 78-64 win against Rhema Bible College in which Rachel West and Madison Laib combined for 13 three pointers. Two of the losses were to NAIA programs including Trinity International and Mount Vernon Nazarene. What was very impressive is that the Emmaus ladies only found themselves down 9 points at halftime against Mount Vernon Nazarene, a much bigger school and NAIA program. It is also important to note that First Team All American, Shelby Hembera, did not play in all three losses due to resting her ankle. Shelby tore three ligaments and two tendons in the previous year and coach Graw had pre-planned which games she would play in first semester. "We really just wanted to make sure Shelby went into Christmas break on a positive note and so we chose to be more conservative with her playing time during first semester," said Coach Graw. Overall, it had been quite a long time since an Emmaus Lady Eagle team went into break with a 5-3 record.
Second semester started out with a bang. On January 7 the Lady Eagles found themselves fresh out of Christmas break and matched up against #3 in the nation Grace Bible College from Grand Rapids, Michigan (NCCAA D2). "I really didn't know what to expect. I knew that we had enough talent to play with anyone but with four sophomores and seven freshmen, the lack of experience worried me. All season I kept thinking that we were playing great but questioned when the lack of experience and immaturity was going to peak its ugly head (which is typical of young teams). All season long, in somewhat of a miraculous way, these girls kept showing the maturity needed to be great," said Coach Graw. This maturity sure did show as the Lady Eagles took down #3 Grace Bible College after a game winning shot by Freshman Alli Howard in overtime. Shelby Hembera lead the way with a breakout performance of 22 points and 18 rebounds followed by Madison Laib's 23 points and 8 rebounds.
On January 15, after beating Crossroads Christian College, the Lady Eagles would go on a record setting 16 game winning streak which wouldn't end until February 26 against NAIA opponent Lincoln Christian College. With Shelby Hembera playing on a broken big toe for over a month and Nakiah Kimble playing on a severe sprained ankle, Coach Graw chose to keep both ladies out of the Lincoln game in preparation for the ACCA National Tournament the following week. "It was a hard decision to make. We wanted to keep the streak alive and also felt that with Shelby and Nakiah healthy we could have had a good chance of beating Lincoln. But it wasn't worth it as both girls needed the rest in order to be ready for the tournament," said Coach Graw. It also didn't help that on January 22 against Central Christian, starting guard and defensive specialist Sharon Tomlinson tore her meniscus and possibly her ACL and wouldn't return for the duration of the season. This moved freshman guard Marissa Kerttula into the starting lineup and she rose to the occasion playing amazing basketball and a key contributor as a very solid role player. Even with the Lady Eagles rotation narrowing down by one, they still managed to reach quite a few milestones including defeating Moody Bible Institute which hadn't happened in over 20 years. The Lady Eagles would also go undefeated in the conference winning both the conference regular season and tournament championship which also hadn't happened in 20 years. "I really didn't know just how big it was to win the conference regular season and tournament championships until the awards ceremony and having the opportunity to cut the net down. Myself and the team were all newbies at this and all of us were confused on how to actually cut the net down. It was like we needed training beforehand, or a 'Cutting Down the Net For Dummies' book, but it was an amazing feeling to achieve these accomplishments," remarked Coach Graw.
The ACCA Tournament began with the Emmaus Ladies receiving the third overall seed and matching up against MCCC conference opponent Ozark Christian. Coach Graw commented, "We played Ozark earlier in the season and defeated them on our home court. I was a little uneasy to say the least when we were matched up with Ozark due to the tournament being held on their home court. So, yes, they are a 6 seed and we are a 3, but were playing in their house. My hope was that we were going to be mature enough to handle it and take care of business, and we did." The Lady Eagles would end up defeating Ozark 65-55 and moved on to play last year's National Champions, the Arlington Lady Patriots in the final 4.
Since preseason, the Lady Eagles had been gearing up for Arlington, not because of any rivalry or bad blood between teams, but because they were the national champions and Emmaus wanted to compete with the best. And here they were, the #2 seed Arlington vs the #3 seed Emmaus and winner goes to the ACCA National Championship. The game began in fireworks fashion as Arlington full-court pressed in order to speed the game up and make the Lady Eagles play at their pace. Both teams came out the gate shooting above 45% in the first quarter including trading back and forth 3-pointers 4-5 times. At the end of the first quarter the score was tied 30-30 and the Emmaus Lady Eagles proved that they could compete with the best. "While I was happy with the score at the end of the first quarter, the game plan was not to play at their pace; we wanted to break the press and move the ball for 25 seconds and make them play at our pace. Throughout the first quarter Coach Beil and I kept telling them that we could not play at this pace; we don't have the speed coming off the bench like they do," said Coach Graw. With eight Arlington Ladies with an average 3-point percentage being over 38% including two above 42%, Arlington had a 9-player substitution rotation going on throughout the first quarter while the Lady Eagles stuck to their five starters. Coach Graw said the game plan was to break the press and move the ball so we could rest on offense and get good high percentage shots while playing at our pace and not Arlingtons. "Arlington arguably has seven girls that are NCAA DIII/NAIA type talent and a few that are possibly even higher. Coach Beil and I wanted to keep the starters in as much as possible to match that talent. In order to do that we had to slow the game down. When we played at their pace by pushing the ball and taking early shots, we played right into their hand and exactly how they wanted us to play. Knocking down our shots early was actually the worst thing that could have happened to us, but I must admit that even I was excited playing at their speed and being successful for one quarter," Coach Graw had to say. The second quarter began with a tired 5 and Arlington capitalized on it with multiple threes and layups to jump up by 12 in a matter of a couple minutes. Emmaus was forced to make substitutions and could never get back in the game as Arlington outscored the Lady Eagles 44-9 in the second quarter including shooting 71% from three point range. "At that point we had a choice," recalled Coach Graw. "We could go the negative route and point fingers at each other while playing the blame game. We could say the plays aren't working and throw our hands in the air and give up. Or we could take responsibility and unite as one. I was proud of the girls as they joined together amidst the adversity and we came out with a positive attitude that resembled Christ as we fought all the way through the 3rd and 4rd quarters to finish our fight against the soon to be 2016 National Champions." After a game such as that the Lady Eagles came away knowing that they can compete with the best and that next year they will come back with more experience, more maturity, and a few other pieces hoping to get another chance at the National Champions.
The third place game would be played the next day against Rhema Bible College and even more adversity would strike the Lady Eagles except this time before the game even began. Adversity started with Coach Graw spending most of the night throwing up followed by the same set of circumstances for Rachel West and Madison Laib. Nakiah Kimble decided to join the club in the second quarter of the game with a throwing up party of her own. To put in perspective, three out of the five starters were throwing up numerous time throughout the game and somehow found themselves up by two points at half-time. "It was crazy. Our halftime consisted of players throwing up and Pedialyte being shared around in dixie cups. We didn't talk much about basketball at that point. We just encouraged everyone to lean on each other and use each other to fight through this adversity," said Coach Graw. With players subbing in and out to run to the locker room throughout the second half, the Lady Eagles would lose the last game of the year by 10 points and secure fourth place in the ACCA National Tournament. Coach Graw had this to say, "People have said to me, 'Man, it's too bad you guys had to go out on a loss after such a great season.' But actually, it couldn't be more perfect how it ended. That game against Rhema summed up our entire season. It has never been about wins and has always been about the unconditional sacrificial love that we show each other. These girls laid down their lives for each other in this game, so to speak. These girls gave up their own glory for the sake of the team. They considered others better than themselves and gave it everything they had. Those 3 girls could have sat out that game and everyone would have completely understood, but they didn't. They chose sacrificial love and team before individual, and that is what this season has been all about."
- Overall Record: 23-7
- MCCC Regular Season Conference Champions (8-0)
- MCCC Tournament Conference Champions
- 4th Place at ACCA National Tournament
- 1st Team All-American (ACCA)
- 1st Team All-Conference (MCCC)
- 2nd Team All-American (ACCA)
- 1st Team All-Conference (MCCC)
- Honorable Mention All-American (ACCA)
- Honorable Mention All-Conference (MCCC)
- Academic All-American (ACCA, given to Juniors and Seniors)
Meet this year's Lady Eagles! You'll find team and individual photos, player bios, in-depth statistics, and more.
With an exciting year came some amazing photos. Many thanks to Jeff Hembera for capturing the great moments.
The full picture of a highly successful season. See all the scores, the game recaps, game and season stats, and more.
The spiritual climate was a huge part of the season. Coach Graw and the Lady Eagles lived out their faith in a visible way.