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Yellowjackets and Titans renew rivalry in NCAA tournament

University of Wisconsin-Superior seniors Hadley Skalmoski (21), Allyssa Lindberg (23), Allie Nelson (14) and Grace Kennedy (2) hold up their UMAC Tournament championship trophy at defeating the Northwestern Eagles 58-34 Saturday night in Mertz Mortorelli Gym. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

The University of Wisconsin-Superior women’s basketball team will meet up with a familiar foe in UW-Oshkosh in the opening round of the 2016 Division III Women’s Basketball Championships at 7 p.m. today at Oshkosh’s Kolf Sports Center.

The Yellowjackets and Titans were long-time conference opponents until UWS ended a 45-year women’s membership in the WIAC to join the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference.

Superior has come close to advancing to the NCAA tournament the past two seasons, but both times lost to Oshkosh in the WIAC championship game — 66-61 last year in Superior and 75-69 in 2014 at Oshkosh.

“We’re excited to have the chance to play UW-Oshkosh in the first round,” UWS coach Don Mulhern said. “When you’re in a conference for as long as we were in the WIAC you develop a rapport and a familiarity with the teams and the coaches.

“Over the past few years we had some really great games with Oshkosh, and we’re excited to have the chance to play them once again.”

The Yellowjackets (24-3) earned their first NCAA tournament berth with a 58-34 victory over the University of Northwestern (Minn.) in Saturday’s UMAC championship game.

“We kept saying all season that we can’t forget how it felt last year when we watched another team cut down the nets in our gym,” UWS senior Grace Kennedy said. “We knew what we had to do, and the main thing was we just had to play our game.

“There are no words to describe how this feels, especially since it’s never been done before. We’re just so happy to give coach the opportunity in the NCAA tournament. And being a senior, you can’t wish for anything more.”

The Titans will be making their third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament and 13th appearance overall after a 65-64 win at UW-River Falls.

In Saturday’s WIAC final, Oshkosh scored the first 17 points of the second half to take a 41-24 lead. But the Titans had to withstand a late flurry of points by the top-seeded Falcons, who whittled their deficit to three points at 56-53 with just under three minutes remaining.

River Falls managed to get within 61-60, but the Titans sealed the victory with four late free throws by Taylor Schmidt, who led the Titans with a season-high 23 points.

Former Yellowjacket Brynn Liljander led River Falls with 22 points, including nine in the final two minutes.

The Yellowajckets earned their trip to the NCAA tournament by running the table through the UMAC, going undefeated in the conference during the regular season and easily winning two playoff games.

“This is going to be a tremendous experience for our basketball team,” Mulhern said. “We all know that we have a job to do, but I also want to make sure that everyone, myself included, takes the time to soak up every bit of this experience. We have learned the past couple of years just how difficult it is go get to this point, and I want everyone to enjoy everything that this trip and participating in this regional has to offer.”

In the first game of the Oshkosh regional, Wartburg College (Iowa) (19-7) and Wisconsin Lutheran College (20-7) play at 4:30 p.m. The winners will play in the regional final at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Second-round winners will advance to one of four sectional sites for games on March 11-12. Winners of the four sectionals will then advance to the semifinals on March 19 in Columbus, Ohio. The national championship game is April 4 at Bankers Life Field house in Indianapolis, Ind.

’JACKET JOTTINGS: Oshkosh, which owns a 24-11 record during its previous 12 NCAA postseason visits, won the national title in 1996 and finished second in 1995. … Oshkosh advanced to the WIAC title game with a 38-21 win in the semifinals over UW-Stevens Point. … Oshkosh was recently ranked 15th in the country by D3hoops.com. … Oshkosh and UWS have two common opponents in UW-La Crosse and UW-Eau Claire. Oshkosh is 4-0 against the two teams with wins of 48-38 and 57-44 over La Crosse and 65-53 and 57-44 over Eau Claire, while UWS lost to La Crosse 66-62 and defeated Eau Claire 61-58 in the UWEC Tip-Off Classic. … Oshkosh lost to Wartburg 67-56 on Dec. 29.

NCAA DIII Women’s Tournament

Oshkosh Regional

Friday, March 4

Wartburg (19-7) vs. Wis. Lutheran (20-7), 4:30 p.m.

UW-Superior (24-3) at UW-Oshkosh (22-5), 7 p.m.

Saturday, March 4

Friday’s winners, 7 p.m.

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