Whitman College women’s basketball coach Michelle Ferenz believes the 2012-’13 season served as a springboard for an historic 2013-14 campaign.

The Blues registered their first 20-win season and advanced to the NCAA Division III Elite Eight.

“The returners were completely focused on getting to the Final Four in 2014,” Ferenz said. “Anything less than that — as long as we stayed healthy — was going to feel like we fell short of our own expectations.”

Whitman would have to first negotiate through a tough non-league portion of the schedule and the always-tough Northwest Conference.

“Whoever could survive the conference season and get to the NCAA Tournament had success,” Ferenz said. “In 2013 — for the first time — three NWC teams made the tournament: Lewis and Clark, Whitworth and Whitman. A very good George Fox team was left out after making it to the national title game in 2012.” The aforementioned teams returned most of their rosters for 2013-’14, making the Blues’ task more of an uphill climb, Ferenz said.

“We knew that just winning the NWC was going to be a challenge, but we were going to play the toughest D3 schedule in the country,” Ferenz said.

Whitman was more than up to the challenge, defeating non-league opponents like St. Thomas, Minn., Pomona Pitzer, Redlands, and UC Santa Barbara before running the table in league play.

“They were No. 7 and we were No. 10 in the preseason polls,” Ferenz said of the early-season matchup with St. Thomas. “It was the D3.com game of the week. And it was a great game. Two really talented teams, both with All-Americans on their rosters and it came down the wire. Just two really good teams hitting one big shot after another. The level that we played out so early in the season was impressive. I knew we had the mentality and the talent we needed to do something really special.”

Ferenz described the Blues’ strength of schedule as “off the charts.”

“Every game in NWC play was a battle,” Ferenz said. “To end our regular season 25-and-0, and number one in the national polls, was an amazing accomplishment.”

The Blues downed Puget Sound in the opening round of the conference tournament, but stubbed their toe in the championship game against Whitworth.

Whitman took its play “to another level,” Ferenz said, when NCAA tournament play commenced. Whitman hosted the first two weekends of tourney action. It defeated Chapman and Whitworth, respectively, in the first two rounds, then defeated Christopher Newport and Thomas More to qualify for the Final Four.

“Offensively, we were confident and aggressive with so many players contributing,” Ferenz said. “So unselfish! We had players who could really score at all positions and great contributions off the bench.”

Those who helped make it happen were leading scorers Heather Johns and Sarah Anderegg. Tiffani Traver, Meghan White, Hailey McDonald, Hailey Ann Maeda, Marah Alindogan, Alysse Ketner, Hallie Buse — and the entire roster for that matter — “stepped up their play,” Ferenz said.

“We were firing on all cylinders,” Ferenz said. “We continued to dominate defensively and on the boards. Although we were playing teams who were confident and talented, we were winning decisively.

“Earning the right to host the first four rounds of the NCAA tournament in Sherwood (Center) was amazing!” Ferenz said. “The atmosphere was electric. The community and campus support was something I have never seen again in the subsequent trips to the NCAA Tournament.”

Including this past season at Wartburg.

“We played in front of a good crowd but nothing close to what we experienced in 2014,” Ferenz said. “Those four games are the only NCAA tournament games we have played in where every seat was filled.

“Cutting down the nets to go to the Final Four with all our fans and family in attendance was a special moment for a very special group of young women,” Ferenz said.

The Blues advanced to the championship game after beating Wisconsin-Whitewater before bowing to FDU-Florham.

Though it came up short in its bid for a national crown, the 2013-’14 Whitman women’s basketball team gave all of us much to be proud of including a program-record 31 wins and the school’s first No. 1 national ranking.

“They were talented, but they were also focused and determined and came to practice every day wanting to get better,” Ferenz said. “They were confident and competitive and refused to let anything get in their way. They set a high bar for the program.”