Written by Matthew Dietz, editor-in-chief of The Northerner
NKU women’s basketball head coach Camryn Whitaker has seen her fair share of postseason basketball, both as a player and as a coach, and understands what it takes to win when the calendar flips to March.
During Whitaker’s lone season at Kentucky before joining the Norse, she served as an assistant coach for a team that reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Prior to that, Whitaker was an assistant at Dayton when the Flyers advanced to their first Elite Eight in 2015. Even before that, Whitaker helped guide Western Kentucky to the 2003 Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship as a player.
“I just keep talking to them about the feeling, what it feels like to win a championship, and fortunately for us, most of our players have won championships,” Whitaker said.
One of those players that has won championships in the past is senior forward Emmy Souder, who won back-to-back state titles at Mercer County High School. On Tuesday, Souder was instrumental in leading the Norse to a 73-50 first round victory over the Detroit Mercy Titans in the 2022 Keeps Horizon League Tournament, scoring 12 points and grabbing six rebounds.
After missing the mark on their first five field goal attempts, Souder got the Norse on the board with an and-one layup and free throw off an offensive rebound, Two more baskets from redshirt senior guard Lindsey Duvall and freshman guard Khamari Mitchell-Steen stretched the Norse lead to 7-3 halfway through the first quarter.
Despite a scoring drought that spanned almost four minutes at the end of the period, the Norse showed tremendous defensive intensity to hold a 14-8 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Norse forced nine Titan turnovers in the first quarter alone.
“Coach Whit, for at least the post, has been preaching post defense and getting good angles,” Souder said. “I think we’re just trying to focus in as much as we can, because the better we get at post defense, the better we will be for our games ahead.”
The Norse came out much more energized on the offensive end in the second quarter, jumping out to a 29-10 lead before the first timeout of the quarter. The Norse opened the second period by connecting on seven of their first eight field goals.
The Norse took a commanding 39-20 lead into halftime, holding the Titans to 25 percent from the field. Duvall paced all scorers with eight points, while Souder and junior guard Ivy Turner each added seven points. The Norse shot 45 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes.
A 12-2 run early on in the third quarter continued the onslaught for the Norse, as six points from Rose propelled the Norse to a 53-26 lead halfway through the third quarter.
As the Norse continued to build a large lead, Whitaker got the opportunity to empty her bench in the second half, as several players including guard Kennedy Igo and forwards Trinity Thompson and Joelle Johnson provided a boost off the bench.
The Norse got 24 points off the bench in Tuesday’s victory, led by Igo and Thompson with eight, as well as freshman guard Kailee Davis with four. Igo in particular has taken on an increased role off the bench over the last several games.
“I’m playing with a lot of confidence.” Igo said. “My team gives me a lot of confidence. I really don’t look to score a lot, and they tell me to shoot the ball and I feel like that helps me play better.”
Souder’s 12 points led the way for the Norse, while Turner and Duvall each chipped in 10 points. Thompson led the way with nine rebounds for NKU. For Detroit Mercy, Brandi Washington led with 12 points, while Lucia Fleta Robles and Irene Murua each had 10.
As the fifth-seeded Norse move on to the Horizon League quarterfinals, they will do so by traveling to Cleveland and taking on the fourth-seeded Cleveland State Vikings, a team that beat them both times in the regular season. For the Norse, a big key to the game will be containing Cleveland State guard Destiny Leo, who dropped 31 points on the Norse when the two teams met back on Dec. 5.
Whitaker talked about the need to be physical against the Vikings, as well as handling the pressure that Cleveland State will apply on the defensive end.
“We’ll get out there, and I know we’ll compete and we’ll give it our best shot,” Whitaker said.
This story first appeared on thenortherner.com, Northern Kentucky University’s student newspaper website.