SIOUX CITY, Iowa – (Box Score | Bracket) It was an epic battle between two familiar foes in the 2015 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship Final, presented by State Farm, inside the Tyson Events Center on Tuesday night in Sioux City.
For the fourth time in program history, the Mustangs of Morningside (Iowa) have raised a banner as national champions after a 59-57 nail-biting victory over Great Plains Athletic Conference rival Concordia (Neb.).
The Mustangs (37-1) reclaimed the title of the nation’s best team on the six-year anniversary of their last championship, and in the process were a part of the closest final game in Division II history – all with sidelined senior forward Ashlynn Muhl watching from bench while sporting her No. 34 jersey.
“It meant a lot,” the newly-crowned NAIA Coach of the Year said. “She [Muhl] deserves to be a part of this, and we would not be in this situation without her. I was just glad she was able to be around her teammates and was able to be a part of it.”
Fellow forward Jessica Tietz – National Championship MVP – was fed the ball early-and-often in this one as the Mustangs tried to establish a low-post presence. The junior got off to a hot start and recorded nine points and 10 boards at the break.
The Bulldogs (35-3) came out determined to make a statement in their first national championship final game appearance. On the contest’s first possession, Kelsey Hizer nailed a three-pointer for the first score of the game. After the first timeout at the 15:30 mark, Concordia was out to a 10-4 lead thanks to ball movement and solid defense.
The tilt’s largest lead was held by Concordia with 5:25 remaining in the first half after Tracy Peitz upped the Bulldogs’ advantage to 26-14. Morningside was able to cut into the lead and trailed 30-24 at the half.
The second half was full of loose balls, diving players and rejections as both teams stepped the pressure as they got closer to tasting the national championship.
A free throw made by Morningside’s Lexi Ackerman tied the game for the first time at 41-41 with 12:17 remaining. A few minutes later, Tietz was called for her fourth personal foul with just under nine minutes to go and the Bulldogs up by two.
Bailey Morris and company were able to keep the Mustangs at bay with Tietz on the bench, spreading the lead to 53-49 after Morris drained a triple from deep. The Bulldogs could not hang on to the momentum for long, however, as Tietz checked back in and immediately got an and-one with 1:27 remaining in the game to cut the lead to 57-56.
The forward then made one-of-two at the charity stripe to get the final all tied up with 55 ticks left on the season for both deserving squads.
With the national championship in the balance, the Bulldogs had their chance to earn their first title, but a shot clock violation doomed the team’s chances of taking the lead. A few seconds later, a hard drive to the lane by Ackerman drew a foul with two seconds left.
After a pair of made free throws – the first of which bounced multiple times on the rim – a last ditch effort by Morris went wide as the Mustangs celebrated yet another national championship.
Peitz led the charge for Concordia with 15 points and eight rebounds. She was joined by Morris (14) and Hizer with 10 points.
Head coach Drew Olson said he told the team after the hard-fought defeat how much his players mean to him and how much he appreciated and loved the seniors on the squad.
“It was an awesome season,” Olson said. “I have never had this much joy and this much fun coaching a team. It is tough to see it end, but I am just thankful that God allowed me to be with this group for as many games as possible.”
For Morningside, the hometown team now celebrates another national crown despite shooting 29 percent from the field for the game (20-of-69).
“We played together on offense and got the ball to the inside to get inside touches,” Tietz said. “We all stepped up with confidence and we all wanted it.
“And here we are – national champs.”
Tietz finished the game leading the Mustangs in scoring with 17 points and 12 rebounds. She was joined in double-figures by Ackerman, who netted 14.
2015 NAIA Division II Women's Basketball All-Chamoionship Team
Slone Masters, Briar Cliff (Iowa)
Tracy Peitz, Concordia (Neb.)
Jamie Van Kirk, Hastings (Neb.)
Bailey Morris, Concordia (Neb.)
Jessica Tietz, Morningside (Iowa)
Brooke Ridley, Saint Francis (Ind.)
Morgan Stuut, Saint Xavier (Ill.)
Jessica Buck, Jamestown (N.D.)
Michaela Barry, Hastings (Neb.)
Allison Bachman, Morningside (Iowa)
2015 Division II Women's Basketball Championship Most Valuable Player: Jessica Tietz, Morningside (Iowa)
2015 Division II Women's Basketball Phyllis Holmes Coach of the Year: Jamie Sale, Morningside (Iowa)