As postseason college basketball tournaments and March madness roll around each year, there is always at least one team that pops up as the Cinderella story of each tournament.
In the case of the Mount Vernon Nazarene College women's basketball team, the Lady Cougars never relinquished their glass slipper as MVNC (20-12) won three straight games over the weekend at the National Christian College Athletic Association National Tournament at Gardner-Webb University to claim the 2001 NCCAA national title.
The Lady Cougars, who received the only at-large berth in the eight-team tournament after losing on a buzzer-beating three-pointer at Nyack (N.Y.) College in the NCCAA East Region championship game, put together one of the best runs in NCCAA National Tournament history as eighth-seeded MVNC knocked of top-seeded Gardner-Webb 68-56 in the first round and fourth-seeded Concordia (Mich.) College 70-68 in the semifinals before capping off the tournament with a 79-64 victory over second-seeded East Texas Baptist University in the championship game late Saturday night.
The Lady Tigers of East Texas Baptist (20-9), who have finished as the runner-up at the NCCAA National Tournament for three straight years now, jumped out to a 10-3 lead at the 14:21 mark as the Lady Cougars managed only three free throws as a result of the Lady Tigers' ferocious full-court press.
MVNC finally made its first field goal of the game with 12:18 left in the half as Monica Mohler's jumper closed the gap to 13-9. The Lady Cougars continued to inch closer as Deanna Kilpatrick's three-pointer with 10:24 to play before the break pulled them within 17-16.
East Texas Baptist extended its lead to 23-18, but MVNC used a 9-2 run to take its first lead of the game 27-25 on a jumper by Kilpatrick at the 3:28 mark. The two teams traded baskets, and then Kilpatrick and Jenni Davis each nailed two free throws to give the Lady Cougars a 33-29 halftime lead.
Kilpatrick paced MVNC with nine points in the first half, while Angie Trainer added eight points. Mohler also tallied six points off the bench. The Lady Cougars were 16-of-18 at the free throw line (88.9 percent) in the first 20 minutes.
Twin sisters Kamilla and Kelsey Moss paced East Texas Baptist with six points apiece in the first half, while Tameka Gardner and Nellece Malone added five points apiece. The Lady Tigers' full-court pressure forced MVNC into 21 turnovers in the first half alone.
East Texas Baptist scored the first six points of the second half to regain the lead 35-33 on a pair of free throws by Kamilla Moss at the 17:16 mark. There were two ties and three lead changes over the next two minutes with the Lady Cougars holding a slim 39-37 lead after a basket by LeAnn Mallernee.
MVNC extended its lead to 45-39 behind four more points by Mallernee and a jumper by Susan Adams, but the Lady Tigers roared right back to take the lead 50-47 with 10:56 to play as Gardner capped an 11-2 run with East Texas Baptist's only three-pointer of the game.
With the Lady Tigers holding a 53-52 advantage and nine minutes still on the clock, the Lady Cougars went on a 14-2 run to take a commanding 66-55 lead with 4:54 to play. Adams led the surge with seven points.
However, East Texas Baptist used a 7-1 run to close the gap to 67-62 with just under three minutes left on the clock. But, the Lady Tigers missed their final seven shots from the field and MVNC went 8-of-11 at the free throw line as the Lady Cougars posted the 79-64 victory and claimed their second NCCAA national title.
"This was just an unbelievable experience to play in a national championship game and to play so well," said head coach Steve Gregory, who was named the NCCAA National Coach of the Year. "We did all the little things well, and that enabled us to come out on top. We talked about the old adage that offense wins games, but defense wins championships. Our players were totally sold on that mentality and proved it true over the past three games."
Mallernee led MVNC with a game-high 18 points, eight rebounds, and four blocked shots. Trainer, who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, finished with 17 points despite being saddled with four fouls for most of the second half. Davis added 13 points with 11 points coming at the free throw line, while Kilpatrick contributed 12 points and seven rebounds. Adams also tallied 10 points off the bench. The Lady Cougars set a school record by making 42 free throws in 50 attempts as the two teams combined to go 73-of-93 at the charity stripe in the game.
Gardner and Kamilla Moss each scored 12 points to lead East Texas Baptist, while Malone, Shatawn Lawrence, and Kelsey Moss added eight points apiece. The Lady Tigers forced MVNC into 33 turnovers for the game, but committed 27 miscues themselves.
"We are really enjoying a euphoric feeling over bringing the national championship banner back home to MVNC," said Gregory. "Our kids never gave up and never stopped believing in themselves even though they were the eighth seed in the tournament. Our three seniors (Mallernee, Kilpatrick, and Kelly Shetler) are to be commended for their leadership and team-above-self attitude that allowed us to achieve our dream - a national championship."