SIOUX CITY, Iowa – For the second time in program history, the Dakota Wesleyan University women's basketball team will play for a national title after defeating Saint Xavier University (Ill.), 81-66 in the NAIA Division II Women's Basketball National Championship, presented by Mercy Medical Center and Seaboard Triumph Foods, Monday at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.
Both teams struggled offensively to start the game, but Kynedi Cheeseman (Alexandria, S.D.) gave DWU its first four points of the game, tying the game 4-4. Moments later, Jessica Mieras (Sioux Falls, S.D.) tied the game after knocking down a jump shot in the lane. With 3:45 to play in the first quarter, Rylie Osthus (De Smet, S.D.) gave the Tigers an 8-6 lead. However, the Cougars finished the first quarter on an 8-0 run to take a 14-8 lead.
The Tigers opened up on a 6-0 run thanks to two three-point plays by Ashley Bray (Anoka, Minn.). Ashley Bray converted on the old-fashioned three-point play after making a layup and free throw, followed by a 3-pointer to tie the game at 14. After SXU took a 17-14 lead, Sarah Carr (Huron, S.D.) and Osthus gave the Tigers the advantage.
Cheeseman broke the tie after throwing up a layup between two defenders and getting fouled. Cheeseman made the ensuing free throw to give DWU a 25-22 lead. Amber Bray (Anoka, Minn.) helped extend the lead following a three-point play. Amber Bray drained another 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Tigers a 35-29 lead with under a minute to play in the first half. DWU went into the locker with a five-point lead.
Ashley Bray got the Tiger offense going in the second half as she scored the first points for the team. However, Ashley was forced to go to the bench after picking up her third foul with seven minutes left in the third quarter. The Cougars cut the DWU lead to two points after stealing the ball and taking it the other way for a layup. But, Cheeseman answered back with a put-back layup of her own. With the clock winding down, Kara Krolicki of SXU drained a deep 3-pointer at the buzzer to make it a 56-54 game, in the favor of the Tigers.
The Cougars picked up in the fourth quarter where they left off in the third, making a 3-pointer to take the lead. Osthus helped DWU regain the lead after knocking down a jump shot. After SXU regained the lead again, Cheeseman muscled her way up for a layup, giving the Tigers a 60-59 lead. Moments later, the Cougars drained another 3-pointer to tie the game at 62. DWU outscored SXU 19-4 in the final 6:43 of the contest, helping push the Tigers to their second national championship game appearance in DWU women's basketball history.
"It's all about our kids," women's head basketball coach Jason Christensen commented. "When you recruit good kids, not just on the court but in the classroom, this is the stuff you're going to see. When you put this group of girls together, it is pretty special."
Cheeseman led the way for the Tigers with 27 points on 10-of-11 shooting from the free-throw line. Ashley Bray finished with 15 points and six rebounds, while Osthus added 14 points and nine rebounds and Amber Bray tallied 10 points and 11 rebounds. DWU shot 46 percent from the field, while outrebounding the Cougars 43-20.
The Tigers will play Great Plains Athletic Conference foe, Concordia University in the NAIA Division II Women's Basketball National Championship Game at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.