One of the toughest feats to attain in all of sports is to win back-to-back championships. Defending national champion Marian (Ind.) University will get the opportunity to play for a second consecutive title after taking down No. 1 overall seed St. Francis (Ill.) in the first semifinal Monday night, 64-56. The Knights, as they’ve done nearly all tournament, started off slow and had to rally from behind in order to seal the victory.
“(St. Francis) punched us in the mouth. We weren’t really ready for it and probably that goes on me,” Marian (Ind.) head coach Katy Gearlds said. “I didn’t prepare them as much as I should have, but they trusted me after the first quarter and the adjustments we made.”
The Knights’ adjustments, after a rough first quarter of shooting just 4-of-13 from the field, led to their outscoring of the Saints over the final three periods.
“I think (Marian) took us out of some stuff offensively,” Saints head coach Samantha Quigley Smith said. “They made things really tough, everyone of our shots was a contested shot. . . I give a lot of credit (to Marian), they really made us struggle on the offensive end, especially in the second half.”
Foul trouble also limited the Saints’ efforts at a comeback. With 7:02 left in the fourth quarter, Charnelle Reed picked up her fourth personal foul which took her off the court. At that point Reed was leading the St. Francis (Ill.) in scoring with 12 points. She would finish with 16 in her final game as a Saint. By games’ end, St. Francis (Ill.) had our players finish with four personal fouls, and two players with three fouls.
Marian, on the other hand, only had one player incur four fouls. The rest of the team had just eight all game. En route to their Championship final berth, the Knights dominated the paint, outscoring the Saints 34-24. After missing early layups, guard Joana Soeiro talked about the adjustments Marian made.
“We didn’t have a good shooting night,” Soeiro said. “. . . As soon as Jess (Almeida) went to attack the basket, get layups and get to the free throw line, you know, it was working so why not keep doing it? We didn’t hit shots from the outside, but we got it done.”
The senior combo of Jessica Almeida and Joana Soeiro combined for exactly half of the Knight’s points. Now, the duo, along with the rest of the Knights have a chance to play for their second national championship in as many years. It would also be the second ever for the program. Gearlds talked about the opportunity.
“That’s what you wanna do come first day on the track, first day in the weight room back in September,” Gearlds said. “You want to be one of the last two teams standing. It is not every year you get an opportunity. People always talk about how hard it is to win championships, well it is very hard to repeat that. . . Win or lose tomorrow, the fact that we have a chance says a lot about the maturity of our team.”
The Knights, who beat No. 2 Southern Oregon last year in the title game, will take on the winner of Concordia (Neb.) and St. Xavier (Ill.). Tipoff is set for 7:04 p.m. central time. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3 as well as the NAIA Network.