By: Sam Knehans, Communications & Sports Information Intern
FRANKFORT, Ky. — The 34th Annual NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship tips off Wednesday at the Frankfort Convention Center. For the third-straight year, the Kentucky capitol will play host to 31 games over seven days, culminating in the national championship final broadcast live on ESPN3 on Tuesday, March 25 at 6:30 p.m. EDT.
The championship’s opening contest features Cumberlands (Ky.) (19-10), which earned an at-large berth out of the Mid-South Conference (MSC), and Heart of America Athletic Conference regular-season champion Baker (Kan.) (26-6) at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. Eight games will be played on each of the first three days, leading to quarterfinal action beginning at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 22. The semifinals are slated for Monday, March 24 at 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., while the national championship final will tip at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 25.
Nineteen teams return from the 2013 field, including 5-of-8 quarterfinalists: Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.), Oklahoma City, Vanguard (Calif.), Westminster (Utah) and defending national champion Westmont (Calif.).
Five teams are making their first-ever national championship appearance—Baker, Cal State San Marcos (Calif.), Hope International (Calif.), Huston-Tillotson (Texas) and Talladega (Ala.).
Top-ranked Vanguard (26-1) headlines the field, as one of two one-loss teams entering the national championship. The Lions, who will play in the final first round game against Association of Independent Institutions tournament champion Cal State San Marcos (15-17) at 9:45 p.m. Thursday, are making their 13th-straight national championship appearance, and 16th all-time. Vanguard boasts an all-time record of 25-14 at the national championship, including a national title in 2008. The Lions qualified as the No. 1 at-large selection, after suffering their first loss of the season to Hope International, 80-76, in the Golden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) Tournament semifinals.
Defending national champion Westmont (20-9) returns to the field as one of three at-large teams from the GSAC and is vying to become the sixth NAIA Division I women’s basketball program to repeat as national champions, and the first since former member Union (Tenn.) in 2009 and 2010. This is the ninth all-time—and fourth-straight—national championship appearance for the Warriors, who kick off their national title defense against Gulf Coast Athletic Conference tournament champion Xavier (La.) (23-9) at 9:45 p.m. Wednesday. Westmont carries an 8-7 all-time national championship record into this year’s event, with five of those national championship victories coming in last year’s title run.
American Midwest Conference (AMC) regular-season and tournament champion Freed-Hardeman (32-1) is the nation’s other one-loss team. The Lady Lions captured both AMC titles in their first year as members of the league, en route to their 18th-straight national championship appearance, the longest streak of any qualifier. Freed-Hardeman will put its 24-17 national championship record on the line, when it faces off against Red River Athletic Conference (RRAC) tournament champion Huston-Tillotson (15-14) at 1:45 p.m. Wednesday in the first round.
MSC regular-season and tournament champion Campbellsville (Ky.) (30-3) and Sooner Athletic Conference (SAC) regular-season champion Oklahoma City (22-4) are two perennial contenders who could make noise in Frankfort. The Tigers are making their 22nd all-time national championship appearance, the most among current NAIA members and second all-time to former member Union (Tenn.) (23). The Stars, who own more national championships (6) than the rest of the field combined (2) and the most national championship victories among current NAIA members (56), are making their 17th-straight and 20th all-time appearance. In the first round, Oklahoma City plays RRAC at-large Langston (Okla.) (20-12) at 4:00 p.m. Wednesday, while Campbellsville clashes with Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC) East Division champion Southern Poly (Ga.) (23-7) at 8:00 p.m. that evening.
Thirteen of the 32 qualifiers have made at least 10 appearances at the national championship, led by previously mentioned Campbellsville (22). Beyond Campbellsville, Wayland Baptist (Texas) (21), Oklahoma City (20), Freed-Hardeman (18), Xavier (18), Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) (17), Oklahoma Baptist (16) and Vanguard (16) had made 15-or-more appearances. Oklahoma City (1988, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2012), Vanguard (2008) and Westmont (2013) are the only qualifiers with at least one national title.
Six conferences—the AMC, GSAC, MSC, RRAC, SAC and the SSAC—placed four programs in the national championship field.
NeuLion, the official video streaming company of select NAIA National Championship events, will be broadcasting the first 30 games from Frankfort. An all-tournament pass (30 games) is available for $24.95, while a single day pass can be purchased for $9.95. For more information and to pre-register, click here.
For more information on the 2014 NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship, click here.