By Blake Moore
ADA — The Ohio Northern women's basketball program secured its 10th straight winning season and appeared in the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament Finals for the third consecutive season during the 2018-19 campaign under 18th-year head coach Michele Durand.
During the 2018-19 season, the Polar Bears posted a 15-13 overall record and a 7-11 mark in conference play, which finished seventh in the final OAC standings.
With their efforts, Northern made its 24th successive appearance in the OAC postseason tournament as the seventh-seeded program. The Orange and Black went on an impressive tournament run, defeating second-seeded Baldwin Wallace 70-53 and third-seeded Marietta 59-55 before falling to OAC Regular Season champion John Carroll 61-58 in ONU's third straight OAC Tournament Final appearance.
"Some people may say this was not a good season for our program because we did not play as well as in recent years. However, I felt that we improved as a team throughout the season, and we played our best basketball in February - the time you want to play your absolute best. Overall, I was happy with our efforts this year."
"This season, the conference was much stronger than it has been in recent history - the top seven teams each had winning records," Durand noted. "We lost seven games this season by five points or less. This shows there how much parity there was in the OAC, making it a tough conference schedule this year."
This season, Durand won her 300th career game at Ohio Northern with a 74-56 victory over Allegheny (Pa.) in the Allegheny Tip-Off Tournament on Saturday, November 17. She went on to capture her 200th career coaching victory in the Ohio Athletic Conference with a 53-46 triumph over Baldwin Wallace on Wednesday, January 9.
In addition, Durand surpassed legendary men's basketball coach Gale Daugherty for the most coaching victories all-time at ONU with 311 wins. The victory came in the regular season finale in a 75-62 triumph at Muskingum.
Durand now owns 434 career coaching victories in 29 seasons at the NCAA Division III level (Bluffton and Ohio Northern) and a 313-176 overall record at ONU, a .640 win percentage.
On the court, senior guard Jenna Dirksen (Beavercreek) received First-Team All-OAC honors after guiding the Polar Bear offense and a young 2018-19 roster. In addition, the senior was tabbed to the OAC All-Tournament Team for her efforts in the Polar Bears' postseason run.
With the award, Dirksen has been named All-Conference in three consecutive seasons, having been named Honorable Mention in 2016-17 and Second-Team All-OAC in 2017-18.
The Beavercreek native led Ohio Northern with 14.2 points per game, 30.6 minutes per game, 132 made field goals, 85 made free throws, 66 assists, and 35 steals in a stellar senior campaign. Her points per game average also ranked among the top-ten on the conference leaderboard, ending fifth overall in the OAC.
Dirksen will graduate with 1,096 career points, which ranks 12th all-time at Ohio Northern. In addition, she leaves ONU ranked third in career free throw percentage (82.4%), fourth in assists (248), 11th in made field goals (399), 12th in made free throws (201), 14th in blocked shots (36), and 15th in steals (123) in program history.
Junior center Emily Mescher (Maria Stein/Marion Local) joined Dirksen on the 2019 OAC All-Tournament Team following a solid campaign.
This season, Mescher led the Polar Bears with a 50.7% field goal percentage and an 85.3% free throw percentage (minimum 15 made FTs) while ending second on the team with 8.5 points per game. With her shooting performance, Mescher now owns a 54.17% career field goal percentage, which ranks third-best in program history.
In addition, she and senior Tori Wyss (Ada) finished 1-2 on the team with 6.5 and 6.1 rebounds per game, respectively. The former's rebounding average ranked ninth in the OAC while the latter ended 13th overall in the conference.
Wyss will graduate with 328 points, 407 rebounds, 74 assists, and 47 steals in her four-year career.
Classmate Alyssa Manley (Lima/Bath) will also leave Ohio Northern with 328 career points alongside 158 rebounds, 100 assists, and 42 steals during her time in a Polar Bear uniform. This season, the senior appeared in all 28 games with 27 starts and recorded 5.5 points per outing, a 2.5 rebounding average, and 2.1 assists per contest, which ended second on the team.
Junior Abby Weeks (West Chester/Mount Notre Dame) was named to the D3Hoops.com Classic All-Tournament Team after the program's two-game excursion to Las Vegas, Nevada in December.
The third-year guard from West Chester led Ohio Northern with 17 blocks, ended second with 26 steals, and finished third on the team with 41 assists and 7.8 points per game this season. She also posted an 83.6% free throw percentage in 2018-19, which gives her an 83.8% career conversion rate to rank second all-time at ONU.
In addition, Ohio Northern boasted an OAC statistical leader in sophomore guard Emily Brock (Akron/Revere). The Akron product was the top long-range shooter in the OAC during the 2018-19 season, converting 42.3% from three-point territory.
Brock played a critical role off the bench for ONU this season, appearing in all 28 games with two starts. The second-year player contributed 6.9 points per game, 47 rebounds, 21 assists, and 18 steals during the campaign.
Ohio Northern also demonstrated success in the classroom after four student-athletes were named to the Academic All-OAC squad. Juniors Kaitlyn Hurd (Buchtel/Nelsonville-York) and Martrina Parks (Columbus/Thomas Worthington) joined Mescher and Brock on the listing following the 2018-19 season.
To receive Academic All-OAC honors, student-athletes must be a sophomore-or-higher in academic standing, maintain varsity-level status during the season, and hold a minimum 3.50 cumulative grade-point average.
Hurd, a junior psychology major, picked up her second consecutive academic honor after receiving the same award in 2017-18.
This year, she averaged 3.0 minutes per contest in 14 total appearances. The junior forward recorded 10 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocked shots.
Hurd has now appeared in 45 career games and tallied 53 points, 50 rebounds, eight assists, and seven blocks in three seasons at the varsity level.
Parks, a junior accounting major from Columbus, garnered her first academic accolade after appearing in 18 contests this year.
The third-year forward averaged 6.7 minutes per contest and recorded 1.3 points per outing. She also tallied 25 rebounds, five assists, and two steals during her first season at the varsity level.
Mescher, a junior middle childhood education major, is now a two-time Academic All-OAC honoree after receiving similar honors in 2017-18.
Brock, a sophomore business major, also recorded her first honor during her first year of award eligibility.
The Polar Bears kicked off the 2018-19 campaign with five straight wins in nonconference play over Chatham (Pa.), Allegheny (Pa.), Defiance, Ohio Wesleyan, and Case Western Reserve for an undefeated November schedule.
Following five conference contests to open December, Northern made an appearance at the 2018 D3Hoops.com Classic in Las Vegas, Nevada. In game one, ONU defeated a tough Carthage (Wis.) program 65-57 before falling to Willamette (Ore.) in a tight-knit, 43-41 battle.
After the new year, the Orange and Black rattled off three consecutive victories in conference play against Muskingum, Baldwin Wallace, and Marietta, leading Ohio Northern to a 4-4 record in January.
In February, ONU secured its spot in the OAC Tournament with victories over Heidelberg and Muskingum in the regular season's final week to end 7-11 in conference action.
From there, the Polar Bears upset second-seeded Baldwin Wallace and third-seeded Marietta to appear in their third consecutive OAC Tournament Finals contest.
"This was one of my favorite teams I have ever coached," Durand stated. "They did everything we asked of them and worked really hard this year. This makes us excited for the future - we have some very good players in our program who will continue to develop. We will certainly miss Jenna, Alyssa, and Tori, but I think believe they have done a great job leading our young athletes. The future is bright for sure."