By Benjamin Wideman / Director of Media Relations and Sports Information
Playing tough defense isn’t exactly the most glamorous job on a basketball court.
But Abby Gerhard and Jordan Barbeau aren’t interested in style points. They’re more concerned with winning games, which means playing relentless defense every second they’re on the court.
Thanks in part to the defensive tenacity of the two Iron Mountain (Mich.) High School graduates, their Silver Lake College women’s basketball team is heading somewhere it hasn’t been in two decades — a national championship tournament.
On Feb. 24, the Lakers earned a bid to the United States Collegiate Athletic Association’s 2016 Basketball National Championships, which will be held March 1-5 in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, just south of Pittsburgh.
Silver Lake College (21-5), a No. 4 seed in the eight-team Division 1 field, will face the University of Maine-Fort Kent (19-5), a No. 5 seed, in a first-round matchup at noon on March 2.
“Neither one of us has ever played for a national championship in anything before — not even a state championship in high school — so I think it’ll be a great experience,” said Gerhard, a 5-foot-9 junior guard/forward. “I don’t know what to expect at nationals, but I’m excited to find out.”
Barbeau, a 5-foot-7 junior guard, added, “I’m excited and nervous. I know what we’re capable of as a team — we just have to play together, play our game and use the skills we have. It’ll be nerve wracking to a point, because it’s a bigger stage than we’re used to. But it’s still just a game. It’s no different than anything we already know how to do.”
Barbeau and Gerhard are the team’s top defenders. They’re a big reason the Lakers held 12 opponents to less than 48 points this season.
Five times this season, Barbeau finished with at least three steals in a game. And Gerhard once had a five-steal game.
Silver Lake College head coach Mike Flentje said the Iron Mountain natives “are great teammates. They’re really team-oriented players who love the game.”
Flentje said of Gerhard: “She’s nothing but hustle. When Jordan comes out of the game, we put Abby on the same player and between the two they wear them down really well.”
Of Barbeau, Flentje said: “She’s definitely a defensive specialist. We rely on her to guard the best player and shut them down.”
The Iron Mountain duo also can provide an offensive punch when needed. Barbeau, a regular starter, averages 2.4 points per game, highlighted by a nine-point outing in a 57-47 victory over UW-Marinette on Nov. 9. Meanwhile, Gerhard averages 2.7 points per game, spotlighted by an eight-point performance in a 90-38 victory over Robert Morris-Peoria (Ill.) on Dec. 5.
In the end, though, neither Gerhard nor Barbeau is focused on offensive statistics.
“I’m not concerned with how many points I score. I’m more concerned with how many points the person I’m covering scored,” said Gerhard, noting she was first-team all-conference in high school as a defender.
Added Barbeau: “Abby and I are both tough defenders and we have the same style of play. We both work hard 100 percent of the time. That’s what makes nationals so huge for us, because that hard work is paying off.”
Gerhard and Barbeau also have excelled in the classroom, as both were named USCAA Academic All-Americans this season.