After an up-and-down season that was filled with two 5-3 stretches and a 17-game win streak, the No. 3 seed Marian Knights (No. 9 in the NAIA Coaches Poll) defeated Southern Oregon 59-48 to capture the NAIA DII Women’s National Basketball Championship title. Lakan Hasser-Smith, the unquestioned leader of the Knights, was tied for a team-high 16 points on 6 of 11 shooting.
This win was a culmination of hard work, belief and a successful five-game streak here in Sioux City at the NAIA DII National Championship tournament.
“We really believed all year that we were the best team in the country,” Marian Head Coach Katie Gearlds said. “All year long we believed that we had the best basketball team, it was all about putting it together for forty minutes and we did that for five games this week.”
Both teams had a feeling-out period in the early minutes of the game, but each quickly found their groove soon thereafter. Marian relied heavily on Jenna Sullivan and Kellie Kirkhoff in the first quarter, as both added five points apiece. The Knights leading-scorer, Hasser-Smith, who entering the game was just 16 points away from 2,000 career points, was held scoreless in the first period.
The Raiders, still dealing with the absence of CCC Player-of-the-Year Ashley Claussen, turned to Tiani Bradford and Courtney Setzer for five and four first quarter points. Southern Oregon outrebounded Marian 11-5 in the first quarter, but the Knights received five bench points and six points off of turnovers.
Marian dominated the second quarter, thanks to Hasser-Smith finally getting in a rhythm. After starting 0 for 3 from the field and zero first quarter points, she scored 11 points in the second quarter on 4 of 4 shooting and 3 of 3 shooting from behind the three-point line.
After Hasser-Smith started heating up, the Knights offense burned the Raider defense, and with that, brought a big momentum swing in favor of Marian. Marian went on a 10-0 run midway through the quarter, outscored and outrebounded Southern Oregon 19-8 and 14-7 respectively. Marian maintained a 35-22 lead at halftime.
It was a struggle to score for both teams in the second half as only 18 total points were scored.
The Raiders controlled the pace of play in the third quarter, as they held the Knights scoreless on 0 for 11 shooting for nearly four minutes to start the quarter. For the quarter as a whole, Marian scored just seven points, compared to SOU’s 10. Meister knocked down two free throws, before Hasser-Smith made a jumper at the buzzer to give the Knights a nine point lead entering the fourth quarter.
Fans and players alike were witnesses to history during the fourth quarter.
At the 9:20 mark, for the first basket by either team in the quarter, Hasser-Smith connected on a corner three-pointer to reach a historic milestone — 2,000 career points.
It was difficult for Hasser-Smith to sum up what that milestone means to her.
“It feels awesome. I can’t even find the right words for it,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without all my teammates and coaches.”
The primary story of the fourth quarter was the Raiders inability to score down the stretch, presumably in part, because of Claussen’s absence. For the second half as a whole, Southern Oregon shot just 22 percent from the field and the three-point line.
Kellie Kirkhoff finished a floater in the lane and knocked down the free throw at the 6:12 mark to put the Knights up eight, but more importantly, gave a big momentum swing to Marian. The Knights knocked down seven free throws in the last minute of the game to give Marian University their first ever women’s basketball national championship in school history.
“It hasn’t sunk in,” Gearlds said. “This right here, as a coach, is so special to see their faces and their joy and realize how much work they put into it.”
This is the third championship across all sports this season for Marian University, with both the football team and Men’s basketball team, along with the Women’s basketball team tonight, capturing championships during the 2015-2016 season.