Two days before the start of 2017, Ashland University's women's basketball team will play an NCAA Division II marquee game to end 2016.
The Eagles, 13-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country, will return from Christmas break to end the calendar year with a game on Friday (Dec. 30) at 1 p.m. in Louisville, Ky., against No. 4-ranked Bellarmine (10-0). Ashland has won 19 consecutive regular-season games, while the Knights have won 15 such games in a row.
Included in that regular-season winning streak was Ashland's three road wins in six days prior to the NCAA "dead period" – 92-55 at Notre Dame College, 96-74 at Ferris State and 75-61 at then-No. 22 Grand Valley State.
"It was a good stretch for us. It was a good test for our team to see what we are capable of," said Ashland head coach Robyn Fralick. "Division II Christmas dead period is a great thing. It gives you a real opportunity to have a break and enjoy your family. The hope is you come back rejuvenated."
So far in 2016-17, Ashland is 2-0 against teams that were nationally-ranked at the time – a 101-50 win at home against then-No. 24 Saginaw Valley State on Dec. 8 and the victory at the Lakers on Dec. 19.
The Eagles are tops in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.77-to-1), assists per game (25.5), field-goal percentage (51.1) and scoring margin per game (38.3), second in scoring offense per game (95.7) and steals per game (15.5), third in turnover margin per game (10.77), tied for fifth in 3-point field-goal percentage (39.6), tied for ninth in rebounding margin per game (10.9) and 10th in 3-point field-goal percentage defense (23.5).
Senior guard Kelsey Peare is the top 3-point shooter in the country at 63.3 percent, and is fourth in Division II in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.92-to-1). Senior guard Alex Henning is eighth in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.62-to-1), and junior forward Laina Snyder is eighth in steals per game (3.31) and tied for seventh in double-doubles (seven).
Snyder has 1,209 career points, three away from tying Jackie Mason (1,212) for 11th place on Ashland's all-time scoring list, and with 733 career rebounds, is 23 away from moving into the program's all-time top five.
Junior forward Andi Daugherty (1,128) is 15th on the program's all-time scoring list.
A balanced Ashland lineup has six players averaging at least 9.5 points per game, five averaging at least 4.5 rebounds per game, six averaging at least 2.6 assists per contest and six with assist-to-turnover ratios of 2.0-to-1 or better.
The Eagles have scored at least 75 points in all 13 games so far in 2016-17.
Since the start of the 2011-12 season, Ashland paces all Division II women's basketball programs in wins (157) and winning percentage (.872).
The Knights are led by senior forward Sarah Galvin (15.9 ppg., 8.9 rpg., 81.3 FT%), junior guard Raven Merriweather (12.5 ppg., 77.3 FT%), senior guard Destony Curry (10.0 ppg.) and senior guard Whitney Hartlage (9.5 ppg., 23 3ptfg, 3.7 apg.).
"Bellarmine's very athletic, very deep," Fralick said. "They're a team that was in the NCAA Tournament last year. They're going to be a tough matchup on the road."
Bellarmine has won four games by three points or less, two in overtime. Friday's game will be just the Knights' second at home this season.
"That's why kids want to play here. We want to play tough teams," said Fralick. "Those sorts of games give you a real evaluation of where you are."
After the Bellarmine game, the Eagles return to Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play at 6-0 in the league and leading the South Division by three games over second-place Ohio Dominican and Walsh. Ashland will finish play against the North with games at Kates Gymnasium against two of three division tri-leaders – Michigan Tech (8-2, 4-1) on Jan. 5 at 5:30 p.m. and Northern Michigan (9-3, 4-1) on Jan. 7 at 1 p.m.
"We've got some real tough games ahead," Fralick said," so it will be real critical that we get back focused and continue to improve."