For the first time in school history, NSU’s women’s basketball team advanced to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Division II National Championship tournament, after winning the South Region Championship, hosted at NSU, on March 18.
The Sharks will square off against the Western Washington University Vikings, the winner of the West Region Championship, in the national quarterfinals on March 26 at 7 p.m. at the Bill Greehey Arena in San Antonio, Texas. The winner will move on to face the winner of a game between Gannon University and Ashland University in the semifinals on March 27 at 9:30 pm.
NSU Head Coach LeAnn Freeland said, “At this point in the season, seeding doesn’t mean much. Every team is fighting for an opportunity to advance in the NCAA Tournament and prolong their season.”
A crowd of 724 fans watched as the Sharks beat third seeded Delta State University, 78-56, during the South Region Championship final at the Arena at the Don Taft University Center. The Sharks began the game with a slow start, as Delta State’s Lady Statesman made their first four shots to take a 12-4 lead. But NSU finally found its groove and outscored Delta State 30-14 to end the first half of the game.
During the second half, Delta State remained close for the first few minutes but NSU was able to widen the gap, leading by as many as 25 points with three minutes left in the game. The Sharks outscored the Lady Statesmen, 44-30 in the second half to seal the victory. Sophomore guard Danielle Robinson led the team with 20 points while senior guard Tailor Jones had 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Once the final buzzer sounded the crowd and the players celebrated the team’s first South Region championship.
Sophomore Kelly Harrison, nursing major, said, ”After watching the girls throughout their whole season, starting off so strong, I feel like it’s just what they deserved.”
Before the Delta State Game, NSU faced Sunshine State Conference rival Rollins College in the round of 32 teams. This game was big for the Sharks since Rollins beat them, 83-80, in the SSC tournament semifinal game on March 9 . This time, the Sharks had their revenge, beating the Tars by 16, 73-57.
Freeland said, “I was extremely happy with the way we played. Delta State is a very aggressive team with a great amount of tradition in women’s basketball. We came out ready to play and we played together for forty minutes. Some calls didn’t go our way but we just stayed together and continued to play our game.”
Even though NSU won by 16, it did not come easy, as Rollins closed an 11-point deficit down to five, just minutes into the second half. The Tars kept it close until the last four minutes of the game when Amanda Burakoski and Meixandra Porter hit back-to-back three pointers. Porter led the team with 20 points and freshman Taylor Buie added 15 of her own.
Buie said, “We just kept telling each other, stay together, stay up. Even though they came within five it didn’t matter, we knew we had each other. We’ve had the goal of winning a national championship and that’s what we are planning on doing.”
The first round of the NCAA tournament consisted of NSU playing against the South Region’s eighth and final seed, Clark Atlanta University. The Sharks opened up the game with a strong start, leading by double digits half way into the first period. By halftime, they led by 20 led by balanced play with 26 points in the paint and 20 points from outside.
Cory Hoffman, sophomore biology major said, “After the first round, it was easy to see how prepared we were to win.”
The second half was no different; the Sharks outscored the Panthers 39-32 in the second half and secured a 27 point victory, 87-60. Coming into the game, NSU only had two double doubles the whole year, but for this game, they equaled that mark. Junior Richelle Carach had 10 points and 12 rebounds while Tailor Jones scored 14 points and brought in 10 rebounds. Led by Porter’s 19 points, the Sharks had done something they had never done before — win an NCAA tournament game.
The NSU athletics department will host a watch party in the Flight Deck for the Sharks’ game against Western Washington on March 26 at 7 p.m.