By Rebecca Harris | @MsRebeccaHarris
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — It was nearly impossible to talk to players in Lubbock Christian’s locker room after its 78-73 win over Alaska-Anchorage on Monday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Every few seconds, as players, coaches, and staff members entered and exited the room, new screams of excitement and laughter would ripple through the entire group.
No one could blame them. It’s the school’s first Division II national championship and a perfect 35-0 season. Even more impressive, however, is the fact that the Lady Chaps won the title in their first year of NCAA eligibility. Just last season, the school was a member of the NAIA.
Most of the players could barely articulate their feelings.
“I’m so incredibly excited,” said junior guard Hannah Harbin. “I’ve got a headache from screaming.”
“Unbelievable. I can’t even describe it. It’s just so awesome,” said senior Blair Taylor.
From start to finish Lubbock Christian controlled the game, only falling behind for 37 seconds in the first quarter before regaining the lead and holding on for the rest of the game.
Alaska-Anchorage (38-3) put up a fight in its first Division II championship game, rallying multiple times to end just five points short in second place.
“And one thing I’ll really miss about this group is the seven seniors — they might bend but they never mentally break,” said Alaska-Anchorage coach Ryan McCarthy. ”You see that a lot. Twenty-, 30-point losses usually are because the other team at some point in the game, they accept to lose. This team never did it.”
Alaska-Anchorage outrebounded Lubbock Christian 47-30, but committed 24 turnovers. The Seawolves also ran into foul trouble. Junior Kiki Robertson fouled out and senior Adriana Dent committed four fouls.
“That wasn’t something we normally do and it just happened that way tonight,” said senior Jenna Buchanan.
In the fourth quarter, the Seawolves came back and cut a 14-point deficit to four, but could not overtake the Lady Chaps, who had three steals in the final 2:07.
“Every time we’d go on a run, something would happen, miss a free throw or miss an easy bunny inside,” said McCarthy.
For Lubbock Christian head coach Steve Gomez, his first NCAA title is the culmination of a “storybook year” with his players, joking that he needed tissues when he thought about his seniors leaving.
“I appreciate these seniors. I appreciate the freshmen that didn’t even get in the game,” he said. “We had 15 kids committed to each other. And, you know, it doesn’t always happen this way, but this year it did.”
Nicole Hampton was named Most Outstanding Player on the 2016 NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball All-Tournament Team. She finished the championship game with 22 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists and seven steals. Hampton and fellow senior Kelsey Hoppel both redshirted last year so they could play in Lubbock Christian’s first year of postseason NCAA eligibility.
“That was a good call by Coach Gomez,” Hampton said. “But, you know, there’s literally no better way to end your career, your basketball career, especially getting to play under this guy right here.”
“It’s definitely a blessing for it all to work out this way,” said Hoppel, who finished with 27 points, two rebounds and three assists.
Lubbock Christian is only the third team to ever win a DII championship with an undefeated record. When asked about the achievement, Gomez said all his team did was focus and try their best.
“People talk about overachieving. That’s impossible,” he said. “All you can do is do the best you can do, and this team did it. They did the best they could.”
The best was a national championship and starting a new legacy for the program.
“Yeah, I hope we built a foundation to start off DII for Lubbock Christian,” said Hampton. “And there’s no better way to get these girls going into the next DII than the national championship, but I have full faith they’ll pick it back up in the coming years.”