For the first time in nearly five calendar years, the Transylvania women’s basketball team has won the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament. This magical season for the Pioneers continues as the now twentieth ranked division three team prepares for the NCAA tournament, having secured an automatic bid from the victory.
With only one conference loss occurring all season, the Pioneers secured hosting duties for the tournament along with a first round bye, placing the team directly into the semifinals where they played Defiance. The last time these two teams competed came on Feb. 9, Transylvania’s senior night. The game was never in doubt for the Pioneers as the girls rolled to a 101-51 finish.
It was clear, after 10 minutes, the rematch would yield the same results for both sides as this Transylvania team’s shooting ability, depth, and defensive prowess were simply too overwhelming for the Lady Jackets of Defiance. 14 Pioneers saw action with many impressive performances including leading scorer, Celia Kline, pouring in 27 points. The sharp shooter made seven three-pointers on just 10 attempts. The girls finished victorious, with a score of 95-67.
This victory sent the Pioneers into the finals where rival Rose-Hulman sat atop the opposite side of the Bracket waiting to give us an emotionally charged finals the crowd had been waiting on all season. These two teams have a history, as the Fighting Engineers are the only conference team to beat Transylvania all season, but Transylvania returned the favor in the rematch Jan. 26 at the Beck Center.
However, this rivalry goes deeper than just this season. These two teams have met in the conference championship the last two seasons, with Rose-Hulman winning both in a competitive fashion. It was clear that the Pioneers were out for vengeance in this emotionally charged affair.
The game will go down as one for the ages for the Pioneers. Transylvania, a team known for its explosive offense and three-point shooting, struggled to make shots throughout the night. The game swung back and forth like a pendulum with neither team able to generate any kind of substantial lead over the other. Defensively Transylvania played a mix of 2-3 zone, man to man, and a sprinkle of a full court press, while Rose-Hulman stayed in a half court man to man scheme throughout the night. Both teams had a high amount of turnovers and low shooting percentages creating an exciting and defensive style championship. Going into the fourth quarter the teams stood tied at 42. Yet the fourth still did not produce any lead between the two HCAC heavyweights as, with just 33 seconds remaining in the contest, the engineers called a timeout. The scoreboard displayed two 61s across the top.
Out of timeouts, Rose-Hulman went to star guard Abby Bromenschenkel. She beat a defender off the dribble and raised her left foot in the air, ready to launch a floater, but was met by the hands of sophomore forward Miranda Otero in a clean block leading to a loose ball recovered by the Pioneers. A Transylvania timeout was called with just four seconds remaining, enough time for Coach Fulks to draw up a play for one shot.
Coming out of the timeout, the Pioneers were to inbound the ball with approximately half of the court to travel to the basket. Senior point guard Kristen Hayes took the ball from the referee and fired a pass to fellow guard Shelby Boyle. Hayes then sprinted directly towards her receiver, caught a shovel pass from Boyle, took two hard dribbles, and launched herself into a tough layup to kiss the ball softly off the glass and swiftly into the basket beating the buzzer to send the Pioneers to the NCAA tournament. This win also continued the Pioneers uncanny winning streak of 20 games (and counting).
Afterwards, Hayes had this to say about her confidence and approach heading into the play: “When the ref handed me the ball to inbound, I just felt completely calm. It was almost like I knew I was getting the ball back, and I knew I was going to score. It was the greatest feeling of my life.”
Emotions roared both from the girls and the 375 fans corralled into the Beck Center. This win also was special for Transylvania women’s basketball coach Juli Fulks, who has been unbelievably successful since accepting the job in 2014 but lacked a conference championship. Coach Fulks had this to say about what this win means to her program, what she is looking forward to going on, and what makes her proudest about this particular team: “One of the greatest joys for any sports team is being able to win championships on your home court. I am incredibly proud of the work our ladies have put in since last season to have both the opportunity to host and the confidence to succeed. As we move forward this week, we will have the same philosophy we have had all season: get better at something every day and be grateful for the opportunity.”
The Pioneers have been awarded hosting duties for the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament and will open on Friday against Piedmont with a time yet to be determined. You can re-watch this exciting conference championship by clicking here.