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The Lakeland College women's basketball team will be riding an eight-game win streak into Northern Athletics Conference Tournament play this week, as the fifth-seeded Muskies hope to continue that momentum when they face fourth-seeded Edgewood College in the quarterfinals on Wednesday night. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. in Madison.
A pair of sub-par performances have Lakeland 0-2 against Edgewood this season, including a painful 59-43 loss in its season-opening NAC game. However, the Muskies have revved up the engines down the backstretch of their NAC schedule. Ironically, the Eagles beat the Muskies the last time they lost back on Jan. 22, a tight 56-52 final, which could give the Muskies a chance to prove themselves at just the right time.
Since that second loss to Edgewood, Lakeland has turned over a new leaf and delved into its aggressive defensive philosophy which is forcing opponents into over 20 turnovers per game. The Muskies knocked off No. 3 seed Concordia University Chicago, 54-48, on the road on Feb. 16 and put away No. 7 Aurora University, 84-70, on Saturday.
"It seems like it was after Christmas break that we were finally able to put two halves together," said senior forward Brenda Paulson of her team's transformation. "We just started to buckle down and play our game like Lakeland College basketball should be played. I think the teams we played at the beginning of the year don't realize the kind of team Lakeland is now, and I think it's going to be interesting to see how everything turns out."
The Muskies' offense is led by senior guard Peggy Keiper, who is No. 7 in the nation and leads the NAC in 3-point field goals made per game with 3.00. She also leads her team in points per game with 13.0. Sophomore guard KC Blahnik has made her presence known on both ends of the floor, as she is averaging 11.2 ppg, 7.5 rebounds and has also tallied double-doubles in the squad's past three games.
However, the pair will have to combine their defensive talents with those of their teammates in order to contend with the Eagles' star forward, Megan Scheele. Scheele is currently No. 4 in nation in scoring with 22.4 ppg, No. 12 in field goal percentage at 59 percent and second in the NAC on the boards with 10.8 rpg. In the team's first two meetings, Scheele racked up a total of 52 points and 23 rebounds, which will clearly make her the focal point of the Muskies' defense.
"This is a chance for us to redeem ourselves," said Lakeland head coach Teri Johnson of facing Edgewood for the third time this season. "We didn't play well against them in our two other games this year, and I feel like we're on a roll. We've been playing good basketball these past several weeks, and I hope we can carry that momentum with us into the NAC Tournament."
In addition to focusing on executing their vicious half-court trap to perfection, the Muskies will also try to get to the free throw line, where they shoot a NAC-best 74.8 percent. Keiper and Paulson are a big part of that success, as Keiper shoots just over 90 percent, while Paulson is averaging 82.9 percent.
The winner of the Lakeland-Edgewood game will advance to the semifinals to face the winner of No. 8 Benedictine University at No. 1 Concordia University, Wis. That semifinal game will be played Friday at the home of the highest seed.
To see the complete NAC Tournament women's bracket, please click here.