Suns, Ravens Set for Quarterfinal Showdown

Franklin Pierce University (N.H.) is making its third consecutive appearance in the women’s NCAA Division II Elite Eight.

The last time Arkansas Tech University reached the NCAA Elite Eight (1999), most of its current players were still in elementary school. Despite that disparity in experience, Golden Suns head coach Dave Wilbers is confident that the rigors of the Gulf South Conference have prepared his team for this moment. Nationally second-ranked Franklin Pierce (31-1) and nationally fourth-ranked Arkansas Tech (31-2) will meet in the women’s 2010 NCAA Division II Tournament national quarterfinals at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at the St. Joseph Civic Center in St. Joseph, Mo. Russellville radio station KWKK 100.9 FM will have the broadcast beginning with the pre-game show at 2:15 p.m. The broadcast will be streamed over the Internet at There will be a video Webcast of the game at, and the Arkansas Tech Office of Student Services will host a public watch party in the Doc Bryan Student Services Building Lecture Hall. “Our conference is one of the best in the country, and we played in packed gymnasiums the entire second semester,” said Wilbers. “I really feel like the Gulf South Conference Tournament and the regional that we hosted are very similar to this in the way that it is set up and the things that you have to do.

“Credit the Gulf South Conference and credit our administration for our regional, because this really hasn’t been anything different for us,” continued Wilbers. “I hear the other coaches talk about how different this is in terms of what they are going through. We’ve been doing this for three weeks, and I believe that is a valuable experience for us.”

One experience that is difficult to prepare for is facing Franklin Pierce’s Johannah Leedham, the leading scorer in NCAA Division II women’s basketball history with 3,003 career points.

Leedham, a 5-foot-11 senior forward from Ellesmere Port, England, leads the nation in scoring (27.1 points per game) and she ranks second in the country in steals (4.3 per game) in 2009-10.

“I say wow every day,” said Franklin Pierce head coach Steve Hancock when asked about Leedham. “And I say wow because there are only a few days left with her on our team. I won’t be as smart next year. She elevates everyone else’s game. She has that instinct that allows her to be one step ahead of everyone else. She does it all.”

Wilbers is equally impressed with Leedham, who was named State Farm NCAA Division II player of the year for the second time in the last three seasons on Friday night.

“I think she’s the best player in the country,” said Wilbers. “I really see her as a WNBA prospect. She can play the off guard on the next level. She’s going to make some money on the next level somewhere next year. Probably the best thing I see her do is she is an outstanding passer. She is all over the place and her motor always runs. We’re probably going to have to throw a variety of defenses at her.”

Arkansas Tech is led in scoring by junior guard Jenny Vining. The Marshall product is averaging 17.5 points per game, and her 116 3-pointers in 2009-10 are a new Golden Suns single-season record. She became the 15th All-American in Tech women’s basketball history on Friday night when she was named to the State Farm NCAA Division II All-America team by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.

But as the year has worn on and opposing coaches have elected to make Vining the focal point of their defensive game plans, Arkansas Tech’s offensive attack has evolved.

The Golden Suns have relied heavily on the frontcourt scoring of sophomore forward Natalia Santos and freshman forward Jessica Weatherford in the postseason.

Weatherford and Santos have accounted for 53 percent of Tech’s scoring in its six postseason games.

A Bonnerdale native and Lake Hamilton High School product, Weatherford averaged 20.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game through the Gulf South Conference Tournament and the NCAA Division II South Regional. She was selected as the most outstanding player at the regional.

Santos, who is from Sao Paulo, Brazil, averaged 18.5 points and 9.0 rebounds per game in those six postseason contests. She was voted the most outstanding player at the GSC Tournament.

“(Arkansas Tech) has tremendous balance,” said Hancock. “We have to do a good job in the paint, and we have to do a good job rebounding. (Arkansas Tech) is a little bit bigger and a little bit better than a lot of the teams we have faced this season.”

The winner of the Arkansas Tech-Franklin Pierce game will play in the national semifinals at 6 p.m. Wednesday against either Fort Lewis College (Colo.) or Seattle Pacific University (Wash.). Those two teams will meet in the first national quarterfinal at noon Tuesday.

Other quarterfinal games on Tuesday will pit Tusculum University (Tenn.) against Gannon University (Penn.) at 6 p.m. and Michigan Tech against Emporia State (Kan.) at 8:30 p.m. The winners of those two games will meet in the semifinals at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The national championship game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday.