SIOUX CITY — Nobody expected the 12-20 Ashford women to make it to the national tournament, so they can’t help but to hope to pull off another surprise when they open play Wednesday in the NAIA National Tournament at the Tyson Events Center.
The Saints — the only team in the 32-team field with a losing record and the only team with fewer than 20 wins — play the first game of the tournament at noon Wednesday and face the top seed, unbeaten St. Francis (Ind.).
Ashford advanced by knocking off another top seed, Indiana University-Northwest, in the Association of Independent Institutions tournament.
The Saints are led by 5-foot-8 junior guard Madison Wagner, the lone double-digit scorer at 10.9 points a game. Another 5-8 junior guard, Quinn Rear, averages 9.2 points, followed by 5-7 sophomore guard Jessica Mlachnik (8.0), 6-2 sophomore forward Elizabeth Nardi (6.5) and 5-8 freshman guard-forward Sarah Vozel (6.2). Vozel also leads in rebounding at 6.7 a game.
While the Saints have been outscored 1,911-1,811 this season, St. Francis (33-0) is beating its opponents by an average of 18 points a game. The Cougars average 84.6 points a game.
Four players average in double digits for St. Francis, two of them averaging better than 20 points a game: 5-11 sophomore Akyah Taylor (20.9) and 5-7 senior Skylarr Shurn (20.5), although Taylor, a transfer from Michigan State hasn’t played since December. Brooke Ridley, a 5-10 sophomore, comes in a 14.4 points, while 5-7 senior point guard Jennelle Wilson adds 13.9.