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Transylvania women’s basketball enjoys rare backdrop to historic championship game win

Regardless of location, Saturday’s crowning moment for the Transylvania University women’s basketball team was sure to be a special occasion.

The Pioneers capped an undefeated season with a thrilling win in the NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Tournament championship game against Christopher Newport University.

The Pioneers’ 57-52 win came down to the closing seconds, and it led to a memorable scene as the team dogpiled at center court of the American Airlines Center with confetti and streamers shooting off around them.

But the fact that the Pioneers (33-0) were on that court at all was evidence of 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.

This means that eight teams gathered this week in Dallas to play defining games at 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.

But, this was also something that came with adjustments.

Every basketball gym in existence has a different shooting backdrop, along with other elements that take adjusting to.

“I think it was kind of a culture shock to all of us. We’ve never really played in a big arena like that,” Transy senior guard Madison Kellione said Saturday after scoring 17 points to lead all players. “We spent our whole practice here two days ago just shooting and getting used to the backdrop where there isn’t walls around and all that like our gym back home.”

The crowd for Saturday’s championship game skewed in Transy’s favor, with fans filling the lower bowl of the arena and wearing black to support the Pioneers, who played in their black uniform set.

Among Transylvania’s cheering support was the school’s volleyball team, which traveled to Dallas to watch the game in person.

The game was also broadcast to a national TV audience on the CBS Sports Network.

Various watch parties across the commonwealth, including in Lexington and Louisville, also brought Pioneers alumni and fans together for the game, which was Transy’s first appearance in the national title game. (It was also Transy’s first trip to the Final Four.)

Transylvania women’s basketball fans line the red carpet while waiting for the team to arrive outside the American Airlines Center prior to the NCAA Division III Tournament championship game on Saturday in Dallas.
Transylvania women’s basketball fans line the red carpet while waiting for the team to arrive outside the American Airlines Center prior to the NCAA Division III Tournament championship game on Saturday in Dallas.

Division III schools get red carpet welcome

In addition to providing a top-quality venue for the NCAA Division II and Division III national championship games, the decision to host those games at the same site as the Division I Women’s Final Four meant that the overall championship week experience was elevated for those schools.

When Christopher Newport and Transylvania arrived at the arena on Saturday morning, they exited buses onto a red carpet setup, with fans lining both sides to cheer them on as they walked into the arena.

“I never imagined that we would have this many people here in Texas with us right now,” senior guard Kennedi Stacy said. “It’s always a big deal in the Beck Center back home, but it was crazy to walk the red carpet today with hundreds of people here for us.”

Additionally, the postgame celebrations — which for Transylvania included the opportunity to cut down the nets and celebrate with its large traveling contingent of fans — took place underneath banners representing all past NCAA Division I women’s basketball champions.

Something else that probably didn’t hurt?

Having your school logo displayed on a massive video screen with the words “NATIONAL CHAMPIONS” underneath it.

Transylvania women’s basketball head coach Juli Fulks walks on the red carpet from the team bus to inside the American Airlines Center prior to the NCAA Division III Tournament championship game on Saturday in Dallas.
Transylvania women’s basketball head coach Juli Fulks walks on the red carpet from the team bus to inside the American Airlines Center prior to the NCAA Division III Tournament championship game on Saturday in Dallas.

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