NKU’s Cassie Brannen takes the ball at South Dakota
defenders Jeana Hoffman (23) and Amber Hegge (22) in the first
half Saturday night. Brannen scored 15 of her 18 points in
the second half to lead NKU to a 63-58 win to claim the NCAA
Division II national championship.
FOR PHOTO GALLERY
- Five years ago to the very day at St. Joseph, Mo., it was the
loud, raucous Jackrabbit Nation that helped give South Dakota State
University a huge lift in the NCAA Division II national championship
game against Northern Kentucky University.
It was on March
29, 2003, that NKU dropped a 65-50 decision to South Dakota State
in the NCAA Division II national championship game. Exactly five
years later, the Norse again squared off against a team from the
rugged North Central Region.
This time, NKU
met the University of South Dakota for the NCAA Division II national
title on Saturday night. While South Dakota’s crowd provided
the same boost its in-state rival received from the Jackrabbit Nation
in 2003, the Coyotes’ enthusiastic fans could not help their
team claim its first-ever national championship.
and Cassie Brannen, among others for NKU, saw to that. And the Norse
made sure the crowd of 3,067 - mostly red-clad South Dakota fans
- and a national television audience watching on ESPN2 knew who
was No. 1 in the nation when the final buzzer sounded.
14 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, while Brannen netted 15 of her
18 points in the second half as NKU rallied for a 63-58 victory
over South Dakota. Healy, a Highlands High School graduate, was
named the tournament’s most outstanding player as the Norse
snapped South Dakota’s 31-game winning streak and denied the
Coyotes a national title in their final season of Division II competition.
believing, even when we were down 12 points in the second half,”
NKU head coach Nancy Winstel said. “Our entire defensive plan
was to switch high, and not let them drive and pitch on us. We did
a pretty good job of knowing who their 3-point shooters were and
guarded them very well. We wanted to stay home on their shooters
and not help, and we are long enough defensively to do that.
and we kept a very good South Dakota team from knocking down a lot
of open 3-point shots. Most of them were defended, even if we did
have a breakdown or two. We were very determined. Once we caught
them, we knew it was a game.”
(33-2) built a 38-26 lead by opening the second half with a 12-3
run. NKU, however, countered with a 10-1 spurt to cut the Coyote
advantage to 39-36 when Danyelle Echoles drained a 3-pointer. Echoles,
who was taken out of the game briefly after being called for a charging
foul in the second half, finished with 12 points and two assists.
an emotional player, and the team feeds off that,” Echoles
said. “Coach Winstel and I have an understanding about that,
and when she put me back in the game, I hoped it would give the
team a boost.”
Chiodi celebrates with Angela Healy (42) as the buzzer sounds,
giving NKU a 63-58 victory and the NCAA Division II national
still held a nine-point lead (49-40) with 5:52 remaining, but NKU
stormed back with a 14-3 run to take a 54-52 advantage with 2:08
left. Brannen keyed the spurt with nine points.
made one of two free throws with 1:12 left on the clock to bring
South Dakota to within 54-53, but Healy responded with an inside
basket to extend NKU’s lead to 56-53. Jeana Hoffman then missed
a 3-pointer and Rachel Lantry made one of two free throws with 37
seconds remaining to give NKU a 57-53 lead.
missed 3-point attempt by South Dakota, Jessie Slack buried a pair
of free throws with 27 seconds left to make it 59-53. Echoles and
Healy each made a pair of free throws in the closing seconds, and
NKU claimed its second national championship with a most improbable
the region was the goal we talked about the most, but our goal was
also to not let it (the season) end,” Healy said. “I
know Nicole (Chiodi), a co-captain and a senior, and I were always
wanting to win the national championship. What senior doesn’t?
It was in the back of our minds. Today was the end, but what a nice
NKU, which was
19-for-23 from the free-throw line in the second half after shooting
just 40 percent from the charity stripe in the first half, finished
with a 28-8 record. The Norse defense forced South Dakota into 7-for-30
shooting from 3-point range and won the rebounding battle, 43-36.
NKU also did
not allow the loud South Dakota crowd affect its play.
rather play in front of a lot of people. It was a fun environment,”
said Slack, who finished with 11 points and five assists. “I
feed off the crowd, and it was a great experience to play in front
of a crowd like this.”
out her career with eight rebounds, five assists and four points
in 40 minutes. The Newport Central Catholic High School graduate
set an NKU single-season record by playing 1,286 minutes in 2007-08.
her career with 1,262 points, which is 15th all-time in NKU history.
The 6-foot-1 center was named honorable mention NCAA Division II
All-American earlier in the week.
the only school in the state of Kentucky to win a national championship
in a women’s sport, and now two of them, is pretty amazing,”
said Winstel, who also guided the Norse to the 2000 national crown
at Pine Bluff, Ark. “These young ladies will remember this
for the rest of their lives. What a great group they are, and when
you consider we didn’t even know if we would make the tournament
three weeks ago, this is a remarkable accomplishment.”
NKU closed the
season by winning 10 of its last 11 games to capture the national
championship. The only loss during that stretch was a 71-67 setback
at Drury in the championship game of the Great Lakes Valley Conference
Tournament at Springfield, Mo.