UW-Whitewater, Oshkosh face off on foreign ground
A typical game between UW-Oshkosh and UW-Whitewater requires one of the teams to drive about two hours.
Tonight they’ll meet two states away.
The Titans and Warhawks, Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference rivals, will meet for the third time this year in the NCAA Division III Sweet Sixteen hosted by DePauw (Ind.).
“It’s kind of nuts,” Warhawks coach Keri Carollo said. “Between us and Carthage and Oshkosh, it’s kind of funny we’ve all got to make the long trip, but it is what it is.”
The defending national runners-up are just happy to still be playing again at this point in the season.
UW-W ran through the conference season unbeaten but lost a stunner to Superior in the WIAC tournament. While the Warhawks had been ranked most of the season, nothing is a given when it comes to an at-large NCAA berth.
“I think it was definitely a wake-up call,” Carollo said. “They had that realization that that could be the end. But if they were afforded another opportunity to play, we had to make the most of it. I think they’re really taking that to heart.”
Whitewater earned a spot in the dance, but it had to go on the road in the opening weekend. In Minnesota a week ago, the Warhawks used back-to-back second-half comebacks to beat Concordia and host St. Thomas.
And in both games, they were aided by Brodhead native Kristen Ruchti, a one-semester player who has provided the team a boost on the post.
Ruchti, who graduated from Brodhead in 2009, originally went to UW-Parkside to play basketball. She played two seasons there but found herself burned out. A change was in order, and after a short layover at UW-Rock County, Ruchti landed at UW-Whitewater in spring 2012, looking to play volleyball.
“I talked to her when she first got here, and she had no interest in basketball. I think she was just burned out and wanted to focus on volleyball,” Carollo said. “When I found out (this year) that she had two semesters of eligibility left, I kind of threw out the idea again, just playing this one semester and finishing up her volleyball season next year.
“She thought it over for a couple weeks and came in and said she wanted to play.”
All Ruchti has done since is average more than 10 points and six rebounds per game coming off the bench.
She finished with 25 and seven, respectively, in the Warhawks’ 87-78 victory over St. Thomas on Saturday.
“It allows us to not worry so much about foul trouble and things like that,” Carollo said. “It’s nice to be able to go to her for some defense and rebounding, not necessarily even having to score.”
The veteran group will need her help again this weekend.
Whitewater swept Oshkosh—winning 72-66 and 64-46—during the regular season. The winner of the third meeting tonight faces DePauw or Carthage in the Elite Eight on Saturday night.