Playing in a national title game is always significant, but something extraordinary happened Saturday.
Not only did the 33-0 Transylvania University women’s basketball team win the NCAA Division III title, but they did so in an NBA arena that was also the venue of this year’s DI Final Four. When the Pioneers arrived, it was to a red carpet reception. When the Pioneers won, streamers showered down on them, and their school’s name and mascot flew around the digital displays of the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
This was only the second time in the past four decades the DIII and DII women’s basketball title games were played at the same place as the DI’s, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. It was part of the NCAA’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, and the players were able to hang around Sunday to watch LSU’s victory over Iowa (after holding a large American flag during the national anthem). Pioneers, including high-scorer and MVP Maddie Kellione, also got to meet some notable women at the game.
The senior guard and her teammates arrived back on campus in the wee hours of Monday morning, and the university is planning a National Championship Celebration for Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. in the Beck Center.
Beyond having the opportunity to play in the home arena of the Dallas Mavericks, there was something exceptional about Transylvania’s season and they way it ended (read about their individual accomplishments, including academic successes). “Regardless of location, Saturday’s crowning moment for the Transylvania University women’s basketball team was sure to be a special occasion,” wrote the Herald-Leader.
The fans knew it. They celebrated the undefeated run and 57-52 victory over No. 1 Christopher Newport at watch parties around Kentucky, a state that didn’t have any other teams left to pull for in the NCAA tournaments. Pioneers supporters raised the roof of the Kentucky Theatre after the win.
Also, enough fans showed up in Dallas to skew the crowd toward the Pioneers, according to the H-L. “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.”
Head coach Juli Fulks has also been impressed with fan enthusiasm. “The community support has been amazing all season, and our last victory was propelled forward by the fantastic crowd and exciting atmosphere,” she told Transylvania Athletics.
To this fan support you can add a healthy dash of extreme player confidence. “They approached this season with a dream of being excellent and found ways to make their national championship goal a reality,” Fulks said. “I am so incredibly proud of the work they have put in this season and grateful to be a part of Transy’s first national championship.”