Fly Pios: Transylvania women’s basketball team wins first NCAA Division III championship
The Transylvania Pioneers women’s basketball team has made history.
The Pioneers claimed their first NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Tournament championship on Saturday afternoon, capping a perfect 33-0 season for head coach Juli Fulks’ team.
Transylvania defeated previously unbeaten Christopher Newport University 57-52 inside the American Airlines Center in Dallas for the national title.
The Pioneers were led in scoring by senior guard Madison Kellione with 17 points and seven rebounds. Senior forward Dasia Thornton had 13 points and 10 rebounds for a championship game double-double, and senior guard Kennedi Stacy supplied significant production with eight points, 11 rebounds and eight steals.
Transylvania women’s basketball (@TUWBX) defats Christopher Newport, 57-52, to win the 2023 NCAA Division III Tournament.
First national championship for the Pioneers, who complete a perfect 33-0 season.
Transy led by 13 in the second half, lost the lead and won anyway. pic.twitter.com/QMX9ZAnLjo
— Cameron Drummond (@cdrummond97) April 1, 2023
The Pioneers trailed by as many as nine points in the first quarter, but then Transylvania turned up the defensive energy with great success.
CNU scored only six points in the second quarter and the Captains had 13 turnovers at halftime.
Also at the break, Stacy had a remarkable seven steals by herself.
The second half brought an onslaught from Transylvania that initially seemed to sink Christopher Newport for good.
The Pioneers began the second half on a 13-2 scoring run, and kept CNU off the scoreboard for a 4:30 stretch. This allowed the Pioneers to build a lead as large as 13 points.
The Captains slowly chipped away at that advantage though, and the game was twice tied inside the final three minutes.
The late-game play that helped seal the national championship for Transylvania came with 43 seconds left, when Thornton made a layup to break a 49-49 tie.
CNU was unable to score on its ensuing possession, and Kellione held her nerve at the foul line afterward to help secure the victory.
Transy doing a lap of honor around the American Airlines Center court.
“We love you coach!” the fans behind me are screaming at Juli Fulks pic.twitter.com/slRnhAqqqC
— Cameron Drummond (@cdrummond97) April 1, 2023
Transy’s national championship is culmination of sustained success
Saturday’s win was also the culmination of years of continued, high-level success for Fulks and the Pioneers program.
Dating back to last season, Transy has now won 60 of its last 61 games. The Pioneers have now compiled a 99-10 record over the last four seasons, with five consecutive Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championships.
But during the 2022-23 season, the Pioneers were truly special.
Ahead of Saturday’s national championship game, Transy had won every game this season by at least eight points. Of Transy’s 32 wins before Saturday, 31 of them came by double digits.
This season alone, Fulks led the Transy program to a slew of firsts: The first Final Four in school history, the first national title game appearances and now, obviously, Transy’s first national championship.
Furthermore, there’s no debating the pathway Transylvania had to take to win the championship.
Christopher Newport and Transylvania began the 2022-23 season ranked No. 4 and No. 5 in the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Division III poll. They ended up as the last two unbeaten teams left.
CNU was ranked No. 1 entering Saturday’s title game, with Transy in the No. 2 spot.
Fulks and CNU head coach Bill Broderick were named the national co-coaches of the year by D3hoops.com.
Each team also had a WBCA All-American on its roster this season (although CNU’s Anaya Simmons suffered a season-ending leg injury during the NCAA Tournament).
Transy wins first national championship on major stage
The Pioneers also couldn’t have picked a bigger stage to have the unquestioned best season in school history.
For only the second time in the 41-year history of NCAA women’s basketball, the NCAA Division II and Division III championship games are being played at the same site as the Division I Women’s Final Four.
This is part of the NCAA’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX.
The location of Transy’s historic championship game victory was the American Airlines Center, an arena that can seat 19,634 people for basketball games and that normally serves as the home of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.
Transy’s title game win was broadcast to a national TV audience on the CBS Sports Network.
Locally, watch parties in Lexington and Louisville brought Pioneer alumni and fans together to watch the historic game.
The Transylvania volleyball team traveled to Dallas to watch the championship game in person.
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