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Behind hometown hero, St. Norbert wins first conference title since 2016

De Pere native Olivia DeCleene hit the championship-clinching bucket Wednesday at rival Wisconsin Lutheran.
Posted at 9:20 PM, Feb 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-17 22:22:41-05

DE PERE, Wis. (NBC 26) — Olivia DeCleene has made some big shots for St. Norbert over the course of her career, but none were bigger than Wednesday night's conference-clincher.

With just seconds remaining, the De Pere native drove to the baseline, slipped by her defender and laid the ball in off the glass. The shot put the Green Knights up two over Wisconsin Lutheran, the No. 2 team in the Northern Collegiate Athletic Conference (NACC) standings.

"It's a tough play to make but if you've watched Olivia DeCleene play at all, she's made a lot of those in her career," head coach Amanda Leonhard-Perry said.

But the job wasn't finished yet.

"There was still 1.9 (seconds) left and at that point I was still pretty calm," DeCleene said. "I was like 'we've got to finish this,' because they have a bunch of tall girls on the other team, they could have easily floated it up there for them to tie it.

That's exactly what the Warriors tried. After taking a timeout to advance the ball into the frontcourt, Wisconsin Lutheran heaved up a lob to the weak side. But, the Green Knights had it covered, with DeCleene coming over from the corner to help finish the play.

"After the buzzer sounded, emotions were high," she said. "It was cool to do it with this group."

The win gave SNC its first ever NACC title and first overall conference title since 2016, when it was a part of the Midwest Conference.

DeCleene's first year at St. Norbert, in the 2018-19 season, the Green Knights finished 11-15 which was, at the time, their worst record in 20 years.

"Coming into the program, it wasn't where we wanted it to be," she said. "So this senior group, coming together, being the leaders that we are and bringing the underclassmen to make them feel like they have an impact on this team... that's what it's all about."

Legendary coach Connie Tilley retired following the 18-19 season, and in came Amanda Leonhard-Perry - a former UW-Green Bay player and assistant coach.

It hasn't been easy - her first year the Green Knights finished 9-16 and her second season was canceled due to COVID - but four years later, SNC is hanging another banner.

"It's pretty cool," Leonhard-Perry said. "And it just speaks to them buying in four years ago and sticking with it and helping us with the culture piece of trying to bring this program back to where it was."

So far, St. Norbert is perfect in league play. They finish out the regular season Saturday at Edgewood College. With a win, they would finished a perfect 18-0 in conference for just the second time this century.

"It's a tough league so to imagine us being at this point this time of the year," Leonhard-Perry said. "I knew coming in that we had some good pieces but all that was on paper at the beginning of the year.

"You've gotta go out and you've gotta play the games," she added.

They have, and - so far - they've won them all.

This year's work isn't done yet. An automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament is at stake during next week's NACC Tournament.

But, after leading the program back to a hard-earned regular season championship, seniors like DeCleene hope they have left a legacy that will be carried on.

"They look up to us - and they can realize, 'Hey, I can be in that position. I can do it. They can do it,"' she said of the underclassmen.

"It takes hard work, on the court and off the court. In season and out of season," DeCleene added. "But I think they can be pretty confident that they can lead this team in the years to come."

St. Norbert is the top seed in the NACC tournament and will host all games at the Mulva Family Fitness and Sports Center. Their first game will be the semifinal next Thursday against the tournament's lowest remaining seed.