By Greg Bates
Times Press sports correspondent
After a stellar high school career, leaving the Shiocton girls’ basketball program as its all-time leading scorer, Tina Ubl was ready for the college game.
As a freshman on the Clarke University (Dubuque, Iowa) women’s basketball team, Ubl thought she would get five to 10 minutes of playing time per game. But she proved to her coaches she was worth more than that.
“I think I showed myself right in the beginning,” Ubl said. “I worked really hard throughout the conditioning season and I was just constantly working hard.”
Ubl started 34 of 35 games – she came off the bench on senior night – and logged 26.5 minutes per contest. She played a big role for Clarke as it advanced to its first-ever NAIA Division I tournament, making it all the way to the quarterfinals.
“With her in the starting lineup, she was our energy kid,” Clarke women’s basketball coach Courtney Boyd said. “She came and she was yelling and screaming and smiling and high-fiving and jumping up and down. Her teammates really took to that.”
Ubl finished her freshman season second on the team in scoring (13.3 points per game), rebounding (7.2), assists (2.0) and blocks (27 total) and first in steals (2.1). She was named second-team all-conference.
“Some games I wasn’t the scorer, I wasn’t the rebounder,” Ubl said. “Sometimes I needed to contribute in different ways – assists, steals, and what the team needed in that game.”
The 18-year-old feels like she had a really smooth transition from the high school to college game. In her first career college game, Ubl scored 15 points on 6-for-12 shooting.
“I really didn’t struggle as much as I was thinking I was going to,” Ubl said. “The game is definitely longer and I got a little more tired in college than I did in high school. But I felt like I fit in right away.”
Early in the season, opponents didn’t have scouting reports on Ubl and she surprised some teams on just how solid of a player she is.
“There were coaches in our conference that also recruited her, so they were not happy with Clarke when we were the ones that got the ‘Yes’ from her and they weren’t,” Boyd said. “But the other coaches that had no idea who she was, I think probably 70 percent of the time after any game it was, ‘Hey, the Ubl kid, she’s a stud.’ As a coach that makes you look like you know what you’re doing when you’ve got a freshman out there that can work that hard and just kind of take the weight off your shoulders.”
Ubl, who pretty much played all five positions at Shiocton, started at the stretch-4 position at Clarke with one of the seniors out of the lineup. In that role, the 5-foot-11 Ubl contributed for the team with rebounding, put-backs, steals and fast-break playoffs. When her teammate returned from injury, Ubl shifted to the 3 position.
“It took away a few rebounds from her just because of the way our senior played, so Tina had to change her game,” Boyd said. “She adjusted really well and obviously those steals and athleticism and fast-break layups are hopefully never going to go away, but she was able to stay on the floor.”
Ubl found her 3-point range, hitting 32.7 percent for the season, and developed a 15-foot, mid-range shot late in the season that paid dividends.
Her inside-outside game made her extremely effective on the offensive end.
“I think I was just powerful on my finishes,” Ubl said. “Towards the end of the year I had my jump shot and I feel that was a good factor to my game.”
Ubl had a heck of a week at the beginning of January as she was named the Heart Women’s Basketball Player of the Week. She averaged 15 points and 9.5 rebounds in two games.
“I wasn’t really expecting it but then I got a text and I was like, ‘Wait, what?’” Ubl said.
Boyd noted Clarke plays in a tough conference, so winning individual awards is a big accomplishment for any player.
“We play teams that have Division I transfers; we have teams that have really tough freshmen,” Boyd said. “For her to be a player of the week and to get all-conference honors as a freshman that’s big. There’s only room to grow and she’s already started and created that baseline for herself. I know with the expectations she has, not even including the expectations I have, it’s just a fun thing to see all the hard work pay off.”
One big reason Ubl received the weekly honor was because of her heroics in Clarke’s upset of No. 2-ranked MidAmerica Nazarene, 66-64.
With the game tied at 64, MidAmerica Nazarene missed a shot with just a couple seconds left in the fourth quarter and Clarke’s Morgan Pitz pushed the ball up the court.
“You could see the look on her face like, what in the world am I going to do with this?” Boyd said. “She gets inside the 3 and sure enough here comes Tina down the middle of the floor yelling at Morgan for the pass. Morgan turns around and flips it to her, and any time Tina’s that close to the rim it’s a 99.9 percent chance that sucker’s going in.”
Ubl hit the shot as the buzzer sounded to cap off the stunning victory.
That was just an appetizer for Clarke as it qualified for the NAIA Division I tournament and knocked off top-seeded and No. 3-ranked Columbia (Mo.) 62-59 in the opening round. Down by three points, Ubl drained a 3-pointer with 2:27 left to tie it. Ubl then hit the eventual game-winning shot with 46 seconds remaining that put her team up 60-58.
“I was speechless after that game,” Ubl said. “I was like, we just did that. It was so cool. Nobody was expecting it but it was so cool.”
Clarke also scored a second-round upset before falling in the third round of the tournament. It was the ideal way to cap a great season.
Ubl is excited to have three more years of playing college basketball on a team that is really young but experienced.
“I feel like we’re going to be very successful just from what we did this year and knowing that some people are going to find more confidence because we’re a really young team,” Ubl said. “I feel like we’re going to step up over the years.”
Ubl plans to work hard in the offseason to improve her game, especially shooting, dribbling and driving with her left hand. A right-hand dominant player, Ubl loves to go right and teams tried to shut her down to that side this season.
Once Ubl can become ambidextrous on the court, look out.
“I’ll be pretty good,” Ubl said.