By Nikki Sherrill, NAIA Media Coordinator
SIOUX CITY, Iowa – (Box Score) Back-to-back. The Marian (Ind.) Knights have claimed their second-straight NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship after defeating No. 1 Saint Xavier (Ill.) in a second half comeback, 66-52. Marian is the first team to repeat since Northwestern (Iowa) did it from 2010-12.
Marian, who ends its banner-run season at 35-3, is now 11-2 all-time in the national championship.
"I am so proud of this group," said Marian head coach Katie Gearlds. "We went through it all this year, losing three games before Christmas. They stuck it out and believed in us. I don't know a team that works as hard as this team. I am proud to be their leader."
In the first half, Saint Xavier was able to gain the advantage, as they finished both the first and second quarters with a seven-point lead over the Knights. In the first half, the Cougars out-shot Marian by nearly 20 percent, going for 69.2 percent. The Knights needed a big second-half to defend their title.
"We just needed to get our legs in it and trust ourselves. “They started to trust each other then," said Gearlds.
The second half was all Knights after they decided to fight and reclaim their red banner. The third quarter saw the first lead for Marian in the game as they got ahead by nine to end the quarter. The shots started to fall for Marian, keeping them ahead. In the fourth, Marian utilized their bench as they brought in 11 points for the Knights to help them take the lead for good. In the end, the 66 points for the Knights were good enough to earn their second-consecutive banner.
"We took it five minutes at a time," said Joana Soeiro of Marian. "We have great teammates and great coaches. We started the season with three goals – conference champion, tournament champion and a national championship. At the end of the year, it's worth it."
Marian was led in its final game by Jessica Almeida who netted a team-high 18 points with two assists and two rebounds. Soeiro (12), Almedia, Kellie Kirkhoff (13) and Ana Kirby (10) were the other Knights to end the year in double-digits. Marian went 42.9 percent from the field, good for 21-of-49.
The loss ends Saint Xavier’s season at 34-3 and they earned their first-ever national runner-up title. The Cougars were led by Brittany Collins with 14 points and eight rebounds. Collins also set NAIA Division II championship record with 68 rebounds total in her time here. The Cougars shot 37.3 percent in the game to earn their 52 total points. Kara Krolicki, who was named the NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Player of the Year, ended her junior season with 10 points, four rebounds and three steals.
In Saint Xavier’s fifth appearance to the national championship event, they are now 6-5 all-time. This is the furthest a Cougar team has ever made it into the tournament.
2017 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship All-Tournament Team
Charnelle Reed – St. Francis (Ill.)
Jessica Almeida – Marian (Ind.)
Brittany Collins – Saint Xavier (Ill.)
Joana Soeiro – Marian (Ind.)
Kara Krolicki – Saint Xavier (Ill.)
Shann Sellers – Friends (Kan.)
Maya Ah You – Eastern Oregon
Bailey Hooker – Southeastern (Fla.)
Dani Andersen – Concordia (Neb.)
Kellie Kirkhoff – Marian (Ind.)
Hustle Award of the Year
Bryn Woodside – Jamestown (N.D.)
Most Valuable Player
Joana Soeiro – Marian (Ind.)
Coach of the Year
Katie Gearlds – Marian (Ind.)