April 3, 2023 

DII/DIII Notebook: Ashland, Transylvania cap perfect seasons with NCAA titles

Eagles and Pioneers cap undefeated seasons

DALLAS — For the first time since 2017, the Division II and Division III championship games were held during the Division I Final Four. Both games took place Saturday at American Airlines Center between the Division I semifinals and finals creating a uniquely special atmosphere for the sport, with Ashland and Transylvania taking home titles.

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“We got to stand shoulder to shoulder with Caitlin Clark and Kim Mulkey and Dawn Staley, and I’m not going to lie, I was kind of fan-girling at the salute when I got to be beside that,” Ashland coach Kari Pickens said. “That was a tremendous experience and NCAA did an incredible job, and it would be great for our sport if that were to continue.”

And though South Carolina was the highest-profile team to carry a perfect record into Dallas, three of the four teams that played in the DII and DIII championships also had an undefeated season on the line.

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Division II: Ashland 78, Minnesota Duluth 67

Coach Kari Pickens added another trophy to her case on Saturday and further cemented her legacy as a legend for the Ashland Eagles. She is now the first in Division II women’s basketball to win a title as a player, an assistant coach and a head coach following the 78-67 victory against Minnesota Duluth.

“I know I’ve said it before, but I genuinely believe this team was hand-picked, and we could not have done it without the selflessness of each and every single person,” Pickens said. “The girls asked me on my way over here, what championship has been my favorite to be a part of. And no offense to the other ones because I loved the other teams, as well, but this team has been so incredibly special to me for their selflessness and how much they came together, that this one tops the cake for me.”

Photo of Ashland players celebrating after winning the Division II national championship.
Ashland celebrates after winning the Division II national title. (Kathleen Gier photo)

Both teams started slow, but the Eagles exploded with a 26-point second quarter to take a commanding lead. Hallie Heidemann went 4-for-4 in that stretch and the team shot 9-for-13 while holding Minnesota Duluth to just five field goals. The Eagles also outrebounded the Bulldogs, 11-3.

“I think we got a lot of inside touches, and we pushed the ball well,” Roshak said. “I think the whole game we stuck to what we wanted to do really well. We got a little sped up in the third and fourth quarters. But yeah, that second-quarter run was huge for us, that momentum going into halftime and then just being able to have that big of a lead.”

Minnesota Duluth made a furious run in the second half, cutting the Ashland lead to single digits behind a 20-point performance from Brooke Olson. She finished with a game-high 26. But even as they crept closer, Pickens’ Eagles seemed fated to finish their perfect 37-0 season and secure the program’s third championship. The 2017 team, which Pickens coached as an assistant, also went 37-0.

“I can’t really put it into words, but the way that Coach P has influenced my life and I’m sure my teammates,’ not only on the court but off,” Smith said. “Just seeing a strong woman, her and her family, and how she just carries herself as such an inspiration as a young female, and I will never thank her enough for that.”

Pickens’ 4-year-old son Elijah was able to join the celebration too, wrapping himself in streamers and running around the court as the Eagles cut down the nets.

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Division III: Transylvania 57, Christopher Newport 52

With a perfect record at the line in the final minutes and a pair of clutch plays from senior forward Dasia Thornton, Transylvania won the battle of the unbeatens. The Pioneers also secured the Division III National Championship with a 57-52 victory against Christopher Newport on Saturday in Dallas. It was the program’s first appearance in the title game.

Transylvania’s Dasia Thornton poses with the net after the Pioneers captured the Division III women’s basketball championship in Dallas on Saturday, Apr. 1, 2023. (Kathleen Gier photo)

“We never could be ranked No. 1 this year, and we kind of joked about it, and we decided we wanted to be No. 1 at the end,” coach Juli Fulks said. “So really proud of them for doing that and everything it took along the way.”

Thornton, who recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 assists, scored a layup with 43 seconds left and went down to the other end to pull down a crucial rebound. She was named to the All-Tournament team and fellow senior Madison Kellione was the tournament MVP. Kellione led the Pioneers with 17 points.

“I was probably thinking like hopefully I don’t cramp grabbing that rebound,” Thornton said with a laugh. “I don’t really think of any rebounds as special or not, I just go for the rebound because it’s in my area. It’s something I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to dominate, so that’s what I did.”

Transylvania entered with a 32-0 record and Christopher Newport carried a 31-0 mark into the final game. CNU held an early nine-point lead, but Transylvania outscored the Captains 27-17 over the next two frames. The Captains used an 8-0 run to pull within one point and later tied the game in the fourth, but could not complete the comeback. Transylvania’s perfect 8-for-8 performance from the line in the last 1:30 helped keep them at bay.

Written by Kathleen Gier

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