Sports Journalism Blog

By Madie Chandler | @madie_chandler

Sports Capital Journalism Program

INDIANAPOLIS — Less than a minute remained in the Horizon League’s Women’s Basketball Championship game, and the 10 players on the court stood still. There was no movement. No scrapping for last-second steals, no fouls to extend the game, not even cheers of desperation from fans. This game was all but over, and the Green Bay Phoenix could taste the school’s first NCAA tournament trip since 2018 with a 64-40 victory over regular-season champion Cleveland State.

“We’ve ended their season the last three years,” Cleveland State coach Chris Kielsmeier emphasized. “And, you know, there’s no doubt that they showed up today and said it’s not going to happen again.”

Green Bay won its record 17th conference title, in its 30th season as a member, by suffocating the Vikings. The Phoenix (27-6) won the rebounding battle by 19 and allowed no more than 12 points in a single quarter. Their offensive attack tore apart the 2-3 zone of Cleveland State from the opening tip. Cassie Schiltz knocked down two of her four 3-point shots in the first quarter, leading Green Bay with six points at the end of the frame. Cleveland State ended the quarter on a near five-minute scoring drought, an omen that would follow them throughout the contest.

“It took a lot of effort because I’ll tell you what, they’ve got kids who can fill it up,” Green Bay Head Coach Kevin Borseth said of his team’s defense. “I think our kids put a lot of effort into trying to get stops.”

Cleveland State, a first-time Horizon League regular-season champion, had averaged 74.5 points. On Tuesday the Vikings were held 16 points beneath their previous lows in a victory over Youngtown State and a loss to Detroit Mercy. Green Bay’s gritty defense held Cleveland State to 19% shooting from 3-point range and 32.7% overall. The lone bright spot for the Vikings was Colbi Maples, who scored 22 of her team’s 40 points on 10-of-20 shooting.

Green Bay’s leading scorer, Natalie McNeal, also delivered steady offense, knocking in series of foul-line jumpers from the center of the zone. When McNeal wasn’t scoring, she was gobbling up loose balls, totaling eight rebounds for Green Bay. Her 32 points nearly doubled her scoring total in last season’s Horizon League Championship matchup with Cleveland State, where she scored 18 points.

“Last year definitely ended on a bitter note for us,” McNeal said. “Going into the summer and all of preseason this past year, we really had our minds set on a notion of ‘we want to be on top.’ We want to switch the script a little bit.”

The script flipped for the Phoenix, a once-dominant program that once made 16 NCAA appearances in 21 seasons and will now advance for the first time in six years. This trip will be Borseth’s 13th with Green Bay, and he’s cemented himself as a pillar of Green Bay women’s hoops.

“I wanted to come to Green Bay to play specifically for Coach [Borseth],” Schiltz began. “I saw him crying before the game started, so just to be able to win this with him means so much.”

Schiltz continued through a swell of emotion, “He cares about us as players, but he cares about us more as people, and he values family. So to be able to do it all together with our families, it’s just awesome.”

Borseth wiped away a tear before following his players out of the postgame interview and toward their next challenge. Because for the Green Bay Phoenix, the madness of March had only just begun.