BY ALLEN HAMIL
PHOTOS BY ALLEN HAMIL
For the two teams in the title game, the paths to get there could not have been any more different. Saint Francis came to Sioux City with a perfect 33-0 record and claimed a number 1 seed. College of the Ozarks, on the other hand, just barely earned a spot in the Championship, grabbing the 10th of 11 at-large berths and garnering a 7-seed.
Both teams advanced through the bracket with Saint Francis picking up victories over Ashford, Siena Heights, Southwestern and Cardinal Stritch to get to the finals. College of the Ozarks maneuvered its way through a tough slate of games during the week, taking down 2-seed Saint Xavier, 3-seed Mayville State, and a pair of 1-seeds in Northwestern and Davenport in their trek to the title. The string of victories over 1-seeds came to an end on Tuesday night as Saint Francis earned its first championship, winning by a final score of 75-68.
The first half was a close back and forth affair as neither team really took control of the game. There were seven ties and a pair of lead changes in the first half. The Bobcats held their largest lead of the game about five minutes in at six points. Skylarr Shurn’s 16 first half points helped the Cougars take a one point lead into the locker room at halftime at 37-36. Each team shot over 50% from the field in the first half.
Although trailing by just one at halftime, Ozarks would never take the lead in the second half as Shurn continued her stellar play for the Cougars. Saint Francis pulled their lead out to 12 points with just under three minutes left in the game, but the Bobcats weren’t quite finished, making some three-pointers late to make things interesting. The Cougars were able to connect on their free-throw attempts down the stretch to seal the victory and secure the championship trophy with a 75-68 win.
Shurn finished the game with an impressive 33 point performance and was named the Most Valuable Player of the Championship. Second Team All-Tournament Janelle Wilson added 19 points and First Team All-Tournament Brooke Ridley finished with a double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds for the Cougars. First Team All-Tournament Alice Heinzler led the Bobcats with 22 points while Second Team All-Tournament Emily Walker added 11 points. Kayla Kepler scored 9 points for the Bobcats and was honored with the NAIA Hustle Award. Saint Francis head coach Gary Andrews was given the Phyllis Holmes Coach of the Year Award.
The Cougars win their first-ever NAIA DII Women’s Basketball Championship in their second championship game appearance. Saint Francis was runner-up in 1999 when they fell to Shawnee State in the championship game. College of the Ozarks has their championship game curse continue as they have now finished as national runner-up five times without a championship win. Their other runner-up finishes came in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2012.
Relive the Saint Francis Cougars’ journey to their first NAIA DII Women’s Basketball National Championship:
Semifinals: Saint Francis (Ind.) vs. Cardinal Stritch (Wis.) – Saint Francis Remains Undefeated Heading into Championship Final
Quarterfinals: Saint Francis (Ind.) vs. Southwestern (Kan.) – Cougars Claw Their Way into the Semifinals
Round 2: Saint Francis (Ind.) vs. Siena Heights (Mich.) – Cougars Pounce into Quarterfinals
Round 1: Saint Francis (Ind.) vs. Ashford (Iowa) – No Miracle for the Saints