BLOOMINGTON — As rewards go, the opportunity to host the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin Women's Basketball Tournament ranks pretty high in the eyes of Illinois Wesleyan coach Mia Smith.
"I'm really happy for my seniors and even the freshmen," said Smith, whose team hosts the tournament on Friday and Saturday for the first time since 2012.
"The freshmen have four-year goals now. The seniors have wanted to bring it back to Wesleyan since they were freshmen. I'm real happy for them and I'm happy for our community, too."
The tournament opens at 5 p.m. Friday with No. 2 seed Wheaton (21-4, 14-2) facing No. 3 seed Carthage (18-7, 11-5). At 7 p.m., No. 1 seed IWU (22-3, 15-1) meets No. 4 seed Elmhurst (13-12, 9-7).
Friday's winners meet at 7 p.m. Saturday with the victor earning an automatic NCAA Division III Tournament bid. At-large bids will be announced on Monday.
The Titans are making their third straight CCIW Tournament appearance and 14th overall. Wesleyan has won six league tournament titles, including five straight from 2008 to 2012. Next year, the tournament will expand from four teams to six.
The No. 16 nationally ranked Titans have won four straight games with the most recent victory an 82-61 decision at Elmhurst on Tuesday. Wesleyan also beat the Bluejays, 87-61, on Jan. 6.
Elmhurst is led by Mikaela Eppard, who leads the CCIW in scoring (17.8) and rebounding (10.8). Kaela Jones adds 11.9 points. Jones had 17 points on Tuesday while Eppard added 13 points and 13 rebounds.
IWU's Maddie Merritt will guard Eppard while Ashley Schneider defends Jones. The Titans are led in scoring by Molly McGraw (13.2), Merritt (12.1) and Rebekah Ehresman (10.7). Merritt will continue to wear a mask to protect a broken nose.
Ehresman ranks second nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.56 and her team ranks second at 1.43. The Titans also rank third in assists (20.1), fourth in points (84.9), ninth in victory margin (23.0) and 13th in turnovers forced (24.8).
Wesleyan's stellar depth is reflected in the fact 10 Titans have garnered game-high scoring honors this season. Freshman Riley Brovelli joined the club Tuesday with 13 points.
"I'm really happy for Riley," said Smith, who has never heard of a team with so many scoring leaders. "She had a great game."
The Titans own wins over No. 10 Chicago (77-56) and No. 20 Rose-Hulman (60-59). Their losses were to No. 12 Wisconsin-Whitewater (62-60), Washington of St. Louis (89-81) and Wheaton (71-61).
The Titans won at home against Wheaton, 88-81, Dec. 6. The Thunder are led by Hannah Frazier (14.8 ppg) and Maggie Dansdill (12.1 ppg).
Wheaton's other losses were to Chicago (82-77), Elmhurst (71-68) and Scranton (67-53). The three-time defending tourney champion Thunder are riding a 15-game winning streak. They lead the nation in blocked shots with 8.6 per game. Jill Berg averages a team-high 2.2 blocks.
"They play solid defense," Smith said. "They are just a very good defending team and they've got multiple offensive weapons. They have a little depth on their bench as well. We are similar teams."
Carthage is led by Madie Kaelber (16.3 ppg) and Rachel Szydlowski (10.0 ppg). The Lady Reds lost earlier meetings with Wheaton by scores of 72-59 and 54-35. Against IWU, Carthage lost by scores of 77-68 and 85-77.
"Carthage has to shoot (well) from the outside like they have been the last few games," said Smith, noting Wheaton blocked 19 Carthage shots in their most recent meeting. "Carthage is a great outside shooting team and that's where they need to go."
Ehresman honored: For the third straight year, Ehresman has been elected to the Academic All-District 7 team and will be on the ballot for the Academic All-America Team.
Ehresman is an accounting major with a 3.97 grade-point average. In her career, she is the IWU's all-time leader in steals (289), ranks 13th with 1,186 points and 14th with 577 rebounds. She also is third in assists (353) and free throws (318) and 18th in 3-pointers (90).