'Unbelievable,' 'proud' and 'fantastic': DWU celebrates national championship
SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Backed by its crowd of blue, Dakota Wesleyan University reigns atop the NAIA.
On Tuesday night, eight years after taking over as head coach, Jason Christensen led DWU to a national championship victory after his Tigers defeated Concordia University 82-59. It is the school's first-ever NAIA Division II women's basketball championship and Wesleyan's first national title in any team sport.
"It means a lot to me," Christensen said. "When I took this program over and (then-Athletic Director) Curt Hart took a chance on me, I told Curt I really think we can turn this program around. He believed in me and this is what it's about."
Christensen, a Mitchell native, built the program from the ground up, DWU Athletic Director Jon Hart said. Wesleyan finished 6-25 in Christensen's first year, 2010-11. But the program has seen steady improvement since, and his team put together a stellar championship game to beat Great Plains Athletic Conference rival Concordia.
The victory was the largest margin of victory in a NAIA Division II women's title game since 2001, when fellow GPAC school Northwestern beat Albertson (Idaho) 77-50.
The Tigers used a 17-0 second-quarter run and drilled 15 3-pointers to spur the championship.
They cruised in the second half, holding a 30-point lead at one point. Confetti and streamers dropped to the floor as DWU players piled in celebration, with nearly 6,000 fans in attendance.
"It's unbelievable," DWU President Amy Novak said. "It is absolutely a fantastic day for Dakota Wesleyan. I am proud of our young women."
Jon Hart watched the Tigers win five national tournament games in seven days. He credited the team, the coaching staff, the community and campus after the victory.
"Everybody deserves this," Hart said. "This group deserves this and our fans deserve this and our community deserves this and I am just happy and just so proud to be at Dakota Wesleyan."
Wesleyan's local fans were just that again — flooding the Tyson Events Center.
GPAC Corey Westra gave credit to both of the GPAC student sections.
"This was one of the more electric national championship environments that we have seen in 21 years here, especially from a student-section perspective," Westra said. "Morningside-Concordia in 2015 was very similar, but the Corn Crib Crazies were crazy tonight and they were out in full force. That was pretty fun to watch."