HOLLAND, MI -- Howard Payne University completed a
undefeated season and captured its first NCAA Division III women's
basketball national championship Saturday by defeating Messiah (Pa.)
College, 68-54, in front of 2,621 fans in the championship game at
Hope College's DeVos Fieldhouse.
Using a relentless 2-3 zone defense and strong inside game, the Lady
Jackets (33-0) became the first Division III national championship to
go undefeated since Washington (Mo.) University accomplished the feat
"As a coach, these kids couldn't have done anything more than what I
asked from them all season ? not just on the floor, but off the
floor," Howard Payne coach Chris Kielsmeier said. "I coach truly great
people, not just great players."
Senior forward Kimberly Hoffman led Howard Payne with 21 points and
eight rebounds, while senior center Stacey Blalock added 15 points and
10 rebounds. Senior guard and national Division III player of the year
Meia Daniels also scored 15 points and dished out five assists,
earning the tournament's most outstanding player award.
Howard Payne used a late first-half run to take a 35-25 halftime lead,
then pulled away from the Falcons (30-3) in the second half, leading
by as many as 19 points at 53-34 with 10:28 remaining. The Lady
Jackets outrebounded Messiah 40-27 and committed only 10 turnovers.
"Every time we'd make a run, score four or five straight points,
they'd answer. They got it done," Messiah coach Mike Miller said.
Senior All-American guard Nikki Lobach led Messiah with 20 points and
seven assists, while Lauren Schurr added 11 points.
Named to the all-tournament team were Daniels, Hoffman, Lobach,
Tiffany Morton of Wisconsin-Whitewater and Tina Grace of Oglethorpe
The Lady Jackets are the fifth unbeaten national champion since the
Division III tournament started in 1982. The others were Capital
(Ohio) in 1995, Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1996 and Washington (Mo.) in 1999 and 2000.
Howard Payne, which was appearing in the NCAA tournament for the
fourth consecutive year, is the first team from the American Southwest
Conference to win the national championship. Messiah, in its 10th
tournament appearance, was in the championship game for the second
time, falling to Washington (Mo.) in the 2001 title contest.